Thank you to all you lovely people reassuring me after last night’s anxiety-dump. I hope you’ll forgive me if I note that many of the specific reassurances weren’t actually relevant (though the emotion behind them was warming and appreciated), and I’d like to try to be a little clearer about what the issue is. I’m sorting this all out in my head, and talking it out helps.
I don’t think this is peri-menopause or otherwise hormonally-related. I went through chemo-induced menopause a few years ago, but have had basically no symptoms (aside from a blissful lack of periods and a slightly sad acknowledgement that I’m done with making babies). I essentially feel normal and like myself in the rest of my life. That’s all good.
I’m also not worried about my parenting, teaching, domestic work, gardening, community service, political activities, etc. Those are all going fine, and I don’t need reassurance that I accomplish enough in those areas.
And if you’re thinking I actually do too much, I know, I know, I’m working on it. That’s definitely part of the problem. I hired a half-time assistant six months ago, and I just handed off a major union responsibility to someone more skilled; I’m doggedly *not* chasing after several other shiny projects that are very tempting. (Oak Park makerspace! Massive garden org network! Shh…)
I will keep trying to set aside more things as seems feasible, but for the most part, the balance of my life actually feels semi-okay right now. With my afternoon teaching schedule, I do have 2-3 hours every weekday morning when I can write, if I want to, and another 1-2 hours after the kids go to bed. So I’m not experiencing an actual lack of writing time right now (which is amazing and new). That said, feeling harried does contribute to the problem (to be defined shortly), as does having gazillion things I can procrastinate with.
On to the actual writing problem, the one that is making me feel ill and weepy and deeply, deeply frustrated. The book-length work.
I don’t think I’m purely a short-form writer. I’d be pretty sad if I were, honestly, because while I enjoy short stories and essays, my great love has always been novels, and it would break my heart more than a little if I didn’t think I was capable of writing a decent novel. I’m not planning to abandon short form — there are pieces that are meant to be that size, and there’s a definite value to the quick reward of short-form publication; it helps keep me motivated during the long slog of novel-writing. But I’m not struggling with short form; I do okay with that. Most of my attempts these days turn out something that I’m reasonably happy with. I’ve been doing this a while now. It’s the book-length work that’s the challenge.
I also don’t think NaNoWriMo is the sort of thing I need. I don’t actually have any difficulty finishing writing the books. More the opposite.
The problem is a specific crashing drop in quality. My first quarter-to-third of the book is generally very solid, and I get enthusiastic responses from beta readers. Then I get to the murky middle, and both I and my beta readers start struggling. I generally manage to pound through and finish the damn thing, but I get seriously impatient, and THIS is I think where I keep going wrong; I just want to be done, and so I finish it, and I send it out. I have TEN books in progress right now, which is frankly ridiculous, because I keep going to a new one whenever I get frustrated with the last one, often forcing out some kind of middle and ending that I know isn’t right. Sometimes they get published and mostly they don’t, but regardless, they’re not as good as it should be.
And I’m not talking about these books not being as good as some ideal brilliant form — I do know that’s doomed to failure, however much we reach for it. Bodies in Motion isn’t a perfect book, but it’s as good as I could make it at the time. And aside from Bodies in Motion, which I spent four years writing and mostly did nothing else while I was working on it, I have been disappointed in every other book I’ve written.
(The Stars Change is ALMOST right, and it kills me a little that I didn’t go back and fix the two now-glaringly-obvious-to-me problems with it before letting Circlet publish it. There’s so much good stuff in that book, and I know why Circlet loved it, and many readers love it, but there are flaws I *could have fixed*.)
So my problem is pretty clear to me now (and you’ve maybe heard me say some of this before, as I’ve been working through a lot of it since last May or so, but each iteration of talking it through crystallizes the issues a little more, so thanks for your patience):
PROBLEM: I need to not rush my books, letting impatience, frustration, and laziness drive me to a quick and sub-par execution.
SOLUTION ONE: On a practical level, thinking about how to solve this, I need to reduce the distractions that make me feel so harried and tense, leading me to spend my time switching between many tiny and easily-satisfied tasks and projects, making me so much more inclined to rush things that should be taken slow. (Some of this is practical fixes like having a program that turns off the router so I have no internet during writing time; that’s actually been very helpful.)
SOLUTION TWO: Be less impatient and lazy.