Updated: Jun 5
Managing Expectations in the Time of COVID
By the time this post goes live, it will be the last day of 2020 (well, on the east coast at least). And what a rollercoaster of a year it's been, full of ups and downs and stomach-wrenching loop-d-loops. And personally, I hate rollercoasters. I don't have the stomach for it. I don't even like sudden drops on back country roads, and I grew up among the rolling hills of western Connecticut. I learned how to drive on hairpin turns covered in black ice and packed snow, so you'd think that I would have been able to handle all the twists and turns this year threw at us.
It's fair to say that none of us have escaped 2020 unscathed. And far too many of us didn't make it this far at all. The fact that we have lost so many people this year weighs heavy on my heart, especially when so much of this death (certainly not all of it) was likely avoidable. I'm going to try not to go on a rant about that, but we'll see what happens. No promises at this point.
But that's why I'm giving myself a free pass for all the things that I didn't get done this year. And there were many. So many. I had some very good intentions for 2020. But good intentions only get you so far. Still, let's list them off:
I wanted to finish the first draft of my new sci-fi project, but that didn't happen.
I switched back to the last book of my fantasy trilogy hoping that would be easier, but that's been just as taxing.
I busted out an entire six-thousand word short story in one day, and have yet to even read it again myself.
I intended to post at least once a week in my blog, but this will be my first post since August 29th.
I started doing author interviews on my blog, and then let them fall by the wayside because I didn't have the energy for them.
The truth is, it feels like I hit a brick wall this year. And I know I'm not alone. I've spoke with many other creatives who feel the same way. So that gives me some small comfort as I push forward every day, a little at a time. But the shear enormity of this year and all the chaos that's come with it has been a drain on the creative half of my brain. And I have not handled that well.
The truth is, my writing has saved me from the darkness of my own demons at one of the most difficult times in my life: my divorce. It's fair to say that I hit rock bottom in the aftermath of my marriage's collapse.
Now let's get real for a second. Roughly half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. I'm not the first person to go through such a crisis, nor will I be the last. But it was writing my first novel, "The Stairs in the Woods" that helped lift me up and finally find the purpose and passion that I'd spent my entire life searching for.
So what happens when you the thing that gives you passion and purpose eludes you? The ability to do this thing that saved you in your darkest days just up and leaves you. And how do you get it back?
That was the lesson I needed to learn this year. And I'm not sure I've got all of the answers yet. But I think I finally have some of them, at least as far as my own mind and mental health are concerned. So let's review where I'm at, and maybe you can relate. That's my hope at least.
The first and most important thing I needed to learn this year was that it's okay to just survive sometimes.
What does survival look like?
Sometimes it's just getting out of bed. Sometimes it's writing a six-thousand word short story in a single day as if your life depended on it. Sometimes it's staring at a blank screen with a blinking cursor. Sometimes it's refreshing Twitter 573 times over a six hour span. Sometimes it's binging random YouTube videos about astrology or Star Wars. All that matters is that you get to the next day and are still breathing, and that all of your friends and family are still healthy too. Sometimes surviving is just taking that next breath and being grateful for it.
But the hardest thing to manage has been balancing my need to survive with my disappointment at all the goals I have not been meeting. I was hopeful that I would finish my fourth book this year. At least the first draft anyway. I would still have editing and revisions to do, as well as getting the cover made, setting up a preorder, and marketing the hell out of it. Somewhere along the line I switched to a different project in an attempt to keep the creative juices flowing, but I realized a little too late that the problem wasn't the material.
It was me.
You see, my goal was to get both book three of "The Forbidden Scrolls" and book one of "The Miranda Project" out next year, allowing me to finish off one trilogy and then start a new one. This would have also given me two new releases in 2021, one in the spring, and one in the fall. But the reality was that as more and more of the year passed by and I spent more and more time simply surviving until tomorrow, the clearer it became that my goals were going to have to be readjusted.
And that was the second lesson that I learned - it's okay to adjust your personal goals as needed when you're feeling overwhelmed. In fact, adjust them as many times as you have to. Put your mental health first and everything else second. Sad that I needed a global pandemic and ensuing lockdown to figure that one out, but here we are. My mother will confirm that I am stubborn, and as such I can be a bit slow on the pick up when it comes to this kind of vital life lesson.
You're boy ain't perfect. C'est la vie.
The third lesson I've learned is that writing is a far more social craft that I've allowed to believe. I know this goes counter-intuitive to the concept of sitting alone at a desk with your head burried in a laptop, but let me explain...
I am an ambivert. For those of you that don't know what that is, it basically means that I straddle the the line between introvert and extrovert. Maybe I do a bit of a square dance on the line sometimes. Either way, I have a need to socialize with people. I thrive in crowds like at sporting events or concerts. I have a local bar-cade that I love to hang out at. I love book stores, and would hang out in one for hours talking with the staff and other customers about fiction and storytelling.
But then I need to go away and recharge. And this entire year has felt like I've been constantly crawling up the walls because my extrovert half can't fulfill it's needs. And thus my introvert half is constantly in fight or flight mode because I can't ever recharge. I'm a little surprised that I haven't gone completely feral in the last ten months (TEN FUCKING MONTHS!!!!) if we're being completely honest about it. I did grow a beard out, but at least I'm keeping it trimmed and looking nice. But the situation is triggering my anxiety constantly, which I discussed in a separate blog post way back in July.
That being said, one of the benefits of being a writer with a social side is that you get to be an observer as well. You can people watch, and see how they interact. You start to pick up the details of eye movements, facial expressions, body language, personality traits, and so much more that you can add to your characters to bring them to life.
Now try to recreate that after spending ninety-nine percent of your time locked in your house for ten months. Everything is suddenly like a blank page in a coloring book, and all your crayons are broken. It's like trying to use the leftover broken stubs, and half of the colors are missing.
So needless to say, the longer this has dragged on, the harder it has become to write on both an emotional, as well as technical level. All of the tools in my toolbox have gotten rusty, and I can't do the thing that would probably help the most - go outside and meet people. Get out of the house and just enjoy life. Simply living life to the fullest is the best medicine for an ailing brain, so being stuck in the same rooms all the time is murder on my creativity. When a weekly trip to the grocery store is the most exotic place you can go, you're barely living.
But then again, both my son and I have asthma, and this shit attacks the respiratory system, so I'm not going anywhere.
And I've certainly heard it all. I've passed on a lot of things that I would have really enjoyed over the past ten months, but I did so because nothing is more important to me than my son's safety. I've had people say I was just making excuses, that things really aren't that bad. Meanwhile there's been three-hundred and forty-thousand deaths in the US alone. I've already seen my son intubated once in my life when he was much younger, I'm not going to put him as risk of that happening again just so I can be selfish. So I trust the science and just survive, because that's all I can do right now.
So where does this leave me and my writing? Well I'm not giving up on it. Bullocks to that. It just may take a little longer than I would like it to. I know there's a few of you out there looking forward to the final chapter of "The Forbidden Scrolls", and I intend to get it to you, as well as lots of other ideas that I still have swimming around in my mind. Sure the water's a little murky right now, but there're in there I swear. The current plan is to try and get book 3 out by late summer 2021. But as we already discussed, it's okay to readjust that goal as needed.
So in closing, I hope find yourself well. It's been a long road and it appears far from over. Either way, remember it's okay to just survive. We'll see each other again on the other side of all this. Just make sure you're there, because have I got a story to tell you...