I thought this photo was perfect for this post. It captures my “WTF am I even doing?” mindset a lot of the time.
So I don’t often make long posts. Usually I’m busy scrambling to get work done, and writing in my blog feels like an excuse to not focus. But uh, you know, sometimes sitting down to collect your thoughts IS the way to focus.
And also: blog posts are informative. Yay information!
I realized recently with the more authors and readers/fans I meet, the less people know about me. ME me, I mean. Not my stories–though you’ll find threads of my life in all of them–but the person who sits here and taps away while drinking the icy coffee she could have SWORN was hot a minute ago.
But if you want to understand my struggle (and perhaps, the struggle of a lot of writers) when it comes to identifying who we are, what we write, how it sets us apart but also merges us in with others who do this for a living via genre or voice or what have you, it would be helpful to learn some stuff about me.
And… I think it would help me to say it.
Some of you know where I grew up. It’s the tiny state of RI, a place people know as Family Guy fodder, or the place you drive through accidentally without realizing it. It’s a flavorful state, but I didn’t see much of that flavor for a long while. People say things about being poor. I don’t need to tell you that being poor is more than just not having new clothes or name brand stuff.
Being poor is opening your fridge several times a day hoping food will appear.
Being poor is assuming every dime you have will be taken from you in a sudden tragic windfall so you better SPEND IT NOW SPEND SPEND. It’s thinking this is the most you’ll ever achieve, that food stamps are what everyone uses, and if you have a problem with it, well, too bad. This is your life.
We were that house kids weren’t allowed over at. I never realized much of this, because I was either mentally escaping into a book, or some art, or into the forest/lakes to catch frogs and climb trees. The point I want to make is, I never had money. Never thought I would. I was always struggling, even as an adult. I’d learned to suffer. To fight.
When I started stripping (and don’t call it dancing, I did very little of that) I was at the end of my rope. I had bills, debt, no one to help or tell me it would turn out okay. I even slept in my car briefly, before later losing it because it broke down and I couldn’t afford to fix it or insure it. I was desperate, I think lots of people are when they do what I did.
This isn’t a woe is me moment. Say what you will of the job, I learned to hustle. I learned to sell. I’m a giant nerd and I spent a lot of time online researching opener lines, closing lines, how to upsell–all to make more money. Money was safety to me, it was success. It was a weird time for me in my life, but I grew from it. I don’t regret it.
Long story short, I eventually took every last dollar I had and left my state. I flew to SoCal, I was lucky enough to reconnect with an old friend who let me crash on her couch as I got my life together. I learned to be an animator–I learned enough about it to realize I hated it. I started writing again, something I’d always done, just to keep myself distracted from the soul-crushing world that was sweat-shop animation.
I did it on the hour long metro commute every morning and every night. I wrote in my phone, I transcribed it to my computer as the sun came up. I killed myself in the hope of finding a way to stop killing myself.
Then it happened.
I began selling short stories online. That first taste of money was like lightning in my guts. I was addicted. I told myself if I could make close to what I was animating, I’d quit and go full time. That happened the next month. Then things snowballed, and I grabbed on and went in with both feet. My first novel made me four figures in a single weekend–it astounded me.
I put everything I’d learned while yanking off my clothes to good use. I researched what sold, how it sold, WHY it sold. I combined what I loved with what was all over the market. It was hit and miss and I kept growing through it all. With every bit of success, I thought, “This is what I needed. Now the tiny voice inside of me that is always paranoid of losing it all will shut up.”
What was funny, was it didn’t shut up. Not at all. No matter what I earned, no matter that I was doing something I loved, I wasn’t happy or calm or sane. The goal posts kept shifting. I needed MORE. I’d say, “Well, I want a nice wedding. I want my family to be here. I want to fly them out and treat them and show them how I’m doing. That takes X money, when I get that, I’ll relax.”
I didn’t relax.
“I want a baby. If I want a baby, I need X money, then I can relax.”
Nope. Not at all.
I’d lost focus, and I was haunted by growing up in a world where you never, ever had enough. That was just “how it was” if you remember. Plus? Now I was meeting awesome authors, talking shop, making connections. I felt that among them, I was a fraud–a big lousy fake. Hadn’t all of them been sweating blood and tears into their books for decades?
Somehow, I would never feel the way they MUST all feel–confident, comfortable in their position as a writer. Happy!
It was crazy, of course. In hindsight, many of them told me how they all felt the way I did. There was always someone that they thought was looking down on them. It was an eye opener. And I started to feel… I don’t know, like I could be okay with what I was doing. If it stayed like this, forever, it would be wonderful. It WAS wonderful.
How could I not see that?
Why did I think I needed to find some magical sense of being legitimized in who I was or what I was writing?
I could have felt happy with myself long before 2016. I wasted a lot of time killing myself with stress and depression because of some conflicted inner beast that said, “You’re not good enough. Everyone knows that.”
People tell me I’m sweet and helpful. That makes me happy to hear, but look above. THIS is why I am the way I am. My history of suffering (and I chickened out and didn’t drop some other details out of shame) means I don’t want others to struggle and deal with feelings like mine. I want everyone to avoid having to hit rock bottom, even if hitting it made me who I am.
There might always be a lingering sense of being a fraud in my heart. That I don’t deserve success, or happiness, and that I belong back in that environment where being hungry and sleeping in your car, or dodging the drunken hands of a man with a few dollar bills is just “how it is.”
But I’m starting to believe everyone feels somewhat like this.
And thanks to understanding I’m not alone…
I’m finding my focus again.