Of Doubt and Fanfiction

Time gets away from me sometimes. I feel like I blinked and it was the end of September, and now we’re finishing the first week of October! I did an Instagram post a little earlier about some goals for October. I spent September alternating between being super creative and super stressed/struggling with my mental health, and it’s taken a toll. I think the biggest thing I’m experiencing right now is doubt.

Just a heads up, what follows is some self-pity; it’s a lot of what’s going through my mind lately, and I just feel like I needed to put words to it to understand it a bit better. (Spoiler–by the end, I did!)

Sneakthief is kind of in limbo right now, and I’m trying to remain optimistic that no news is good news. I’ve been in a holding pattern with it since the beginning of August, and am just being patient. But every so often doubt creeps in and I think, “This book is terrible.” or “I should have fixed XYZ before sending it anywhere.” And begin to think maybe I should just scrap the whole Ungifted series altogether.

Because the Turncoat rewrite has stalled yet again. There was a point earlier in September where I made some major headway and it was almost a state of mania to get it written and worked on. Nearly all of what I was writing in the rewrite was brand new material vs. cutting/pasting/smoothing. Creating new stuff felt good. But now that I’m past that point and at a standstill again, trying to figure out how to get around this latest block, I’m wondering what the point is.

Recently, I picked up GreedFall, a new IP from Spiders and Focus Interactive. It looked good, and now that I’m playing it, I have an energy and excitement for a game/fandom I haven’t had in a loooong time. I still love Dragon Age. Dragon Age will be a part of me forever (and I’m dying for the next game!) and I’m still very much into the lore and the world. But this has woken me up creatively again. The world is new and different, the characters pretty good (I’m absolutely Forever a Naut and total #VascoTrash), and the plot makes some pretty uncomfortable statements about human nature, greed, colonialism, and the like. And most notably, for me anyway…

I’m writing fanfiction of it.

I started writing fanfiction years ago, when I got out of college and had nowhere to place my fandom love. I joined fanfiction.net in 2003. I took a hiatus from fanfiction when I started grad school, mostly because I didn’t have the time. But after grad school, when I did have the time to be creative again and write for fun again, I tried to make myself write original stuff. I did some lackluster submissions of my MFA thesis novel, but my heart wasn’t into it. And in 2011, I discovered Dragon Age.

It made me want to write again.

Dragon Age has been one of the best things to happen to me personally and creatively. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of words of Dragon Age fanfic, and through that, have moved into my original work with Ungifted, and feel a passion for original writing again, something that was lacking when I was trying to do something more with my thesis after graduating.

But I’ve also been focused on Ungifted and its various parts almost nonstop since January 2018. Having new fanfiction to write, in a new world with a new story and new characters to get to know, is exciting. I love the feeling of updating and getting feedback. It makes me giddy, it makes me grin. I feel a little more fulfilled writing-wise. It does make me doubt my original work, and make me wonder if I should just stick with fic.

Then again, maybe I just need a break, doing something completely different and without any pressure, to recharge and then get back to it. I’m really close to the end of Turncoat. Finishing that rewrite is one of my October goals, along with outlining the next book, Scapegoat; and continuing work on Tempest, my spur of the moment GreedFall fic. I want to finish the game, and promptly replay it. I want to read a book or two, and get recharged.

Maybe that’s what I need. Along with considering why I’m writing. Often I’ve maintained that I write because I love to, so if I’m losing that focus, I need to regain it.

Doubt can be a bad thing, because it can hold you back. But I think in this case, what started out as a bad thing is actually good, because it’s making me reevaluate and renew my commitment to my creativity.

I Took a Break

Time can have a funny way of getting away from you. I feel like I blinked and two weeks went by and suddenly it’s September, and I wonder where the last of August went.

I have depression and anxiety disorder, and sometimes I wonder if there’s some ADD there as well, though it may be my other disorders mimicking similar symptoms. That can be part of where time goes. Another part is work; I love my job, and we’re at a point in the term where things are picking up to get ready for fall term.

Looking back at the last two weeks of August in retrospect I can plot out how things have gone since my last blog. So this is what’s been happening…

  1. I read a book. On the recommendation of a good friend, I read Witchmark by C.L. Polk. PLEASE READ IT. It blew my mind with how intricate the world was, and how fantastically plotted and paced it was. I loved the characters and just how when I thought I figured it out, there was yet another turn. It wasn’t a long book, just over 300 pages or so, but as a result it packed even more of a punch, because everything in those 300 pages counted. This leads to the next thing.
  2. I’ve been in a rewrite of Turncoat while waiting for Sneakthief to do some sneaking. I’ve been slogging through, having some trouble figuring out what needs to stay or go, and what needs to change completely and after reading Witchmark, something unlocked in my mind and I’ve been writing furiously. I have probably close to 10,000 words of brand new material that really makes the book so much better than any of the other drafts and I’ve been writing every day. Except yesterday, but more on that later.
  3. Last week I had a persistent anxiety attack that just wouldn’t go away. I’ve had anxiety/depression (officially diagnosed) for the last 15 years. I’m medicated, I do well with the medication, and with being able to trace my triggers. This week I just couldn’t. I had to do some serious soul searching to figure out what was up.

I figured out that I’d been avoiding building my fall course shell for my class starting later this month. I’d been putting off some other things so I just sucked it up and got them done. And I felt way better! Also, Smol Human had his initial referral for special ed in our town. He was diagnosed with Autism earlier this spring, and is still in preschool, so we have time to get his services in order before he enters public school next year (side note thank all deities that I have a background in education, because even this is still kind of overwhelming, so I can’t imagine what it would be like if I didn’t know what I already do).

In the midst of all that I’d been channeling the anxious energy into the Turncoat rewrite. And then yesterday I didn’t write. I’d caught up on my other projects. Smol’s meeting went very well. I’d been going almost nonstop, with the story waking me up at night and getting me up early. I’d thought I’d spend some time yesterday writing. Instead?

It was beautiful. Smol and I went to the park and then walked around it for over an hour. We went to play at a play place in town. Then I went shopping with my sister-in-law, and we had a big dinner all together. Then I hung out watching some Good Omens (yes I’m behind, I’m getting caught up!). But I didn’t write. I thought about the story; it’s impossible not to. But I enjoyed a lovely day with my Smol and my family, and I took a much needed break from everything that had been building.

Last month at Readercon I went to a panel titled “Periods of Not Writing”. It was good to hear published writers discuss when they knew they needed breaks, and that it’s important to take breaks. PAX East this past spring also had a panel about avoiding burnout in creative professions. Where I can get super focused on my pursuits, it’s important to remember that not only can I take breaks, but I should.

So yesterday I did, and today is looking like a break day as well as I’m vising at my parents’ with the Smol. Maybe I’ll get some writing in later, maybe I won’t, and I’m not going to feel badly about either one. I’m giving myself permission to rest, to take a break, to relax and recharge so I don’t get caught in an anxiety loop again. Turncoat will get written, and Scapegoat after that. I’m committed to this, and taking a breaks to regroup is just another part of the process.

I guess the bottom line is be kind to yourself. Recognize when you need to pull back, when you need to push ahead, when you need support. Be reasonable and be realistic. Don’t settle, but don’t burn out, either. I took a break. And I’m glad I did.