April 10, 2006

The Process of Being Mentally Ill, Part One

Have I told you the thing about how every time I write a novel (and this is the fifth time I have done this, so pernicious novel-writing is beginning to be a habitual thing with me) I have to have a complete nervous breakdown?

Yeah, about 1/3rd to 1/2 of the way in, I suddenly realize I am bad, and stupid, and evil, and as much as I love my characters I am too worthless to possibly get them to go sit on a page and LIVE and BE NIFTY they do in my head and WHAT IS UP with this PLOT because what I thought would happen has NOT happened and instead I let my mental people do haring off and perpetrate completely other ideas and so now that I am stuck they decide they to have no idea where they should go or what they should do, and I fume and flail around snarking for a couple of weeks, just stomp around suffer and suchlike, and then after 10 - 30 days of grinding out bad rewrites of a single bad scene, I culminate in a big huge screaming weep.

I call everyone I know and brainstorm for a new career path, and pule about how I am going to try out for Project Runway because even though I can't sew a LICK and I put outfits together by going to Ann Taylor and pointing at a mannequin that I think doesn't look too matchy-matchy and yet is still pretty and saying, "Give me that please" and then once it's in a bag I go to the SHOE STORE which is the only part of the whole process I care about anyway....BUT WHO CARES because Tim Gunn NEEDS me and fashion is CLEARLY my life and my calling and I know this because it dern well sure is NOT writing. Or I could be a zookeeper! Or a nun! Or a business woman in a power suit who ruthlessly downsizes weeping middle management!

Once everyone I know has patiently explained to me that these are not actually viable career paths for a disorganized married crazy fashion-sense-free mother who is actually kinda SCARED of lions, I lie on my bed and scream to the heavens and cry WHY WHY WHY and generally act like a 2 year old on crack, and a spoiled one at that. This part wastes another day or so. Then I get up and write the rest of the book.

Yeah, well, this time, here on book five, I decided to, you know, maybe not do that.

I quit writing right before I went to New York. Just....stopped. I thougth maybe I was not writing because I was out of town, but no. I quit. Hacked 10K out of the book, and left it there to bleed to death with one quarter of itself removed. When I got home it was dead as a congealed spill of paint to me, and I decided to not care. Decided I would put a new 10K back in when I was good and freakin' ready THANKS MUCH. Because EVEN THOUGH it was clearly time to have a nervous breakdown and make everyone who loved me miserable, and THIS TIME, I decided to opt out.

I remember when I was writing Between, Georgia, this point came about one third of the way into the book, outside a hospital room where my main character runs slap dab into her awful genetic legacy personified, and even then I knew it really OUGHT to be a turning point. The scene would have to rachet the tension up a good ten clicks and make several relationships in all their tangley ugliness become horrifyingly clear. And instead, I wrote FORTY PAGES of this one scene, over and over, read it to my writing group I think three times....it gave me HELL. And I went mental and quit writing and vowed I would be a world class aviatrix or some such twaddle and lay around and flopped and after the 14th TOTAL rewrite of this scene, I went into the final phase (full panic alert mode) and called my friend Lily.

Her: Oh. Are we here now?
Me: *actually, shockingly listening* What? Where?
Her: The part 1/3rd to 1/2 of the way in where we have this conversation about how you can't go on an d it makes no sense and there is no way to resolve this this or that blah blah and we do this for a couple of hours and then you go write the book.
Me: I do that?
Her: Every book.
Me: Do you tell me I do this every book?
Her: Every book.
Me: SO not only have we had the conversation where I say I can't do this anymore, but we have ALSO had the conversation where you say I always say this?
Her: This is the fourth time, yes, and to make you do the math I will ask you, How many books have you written?
Me: This is the fourth.....And we really have these two conversations every time.
Her: Well the first time we didn;t have the conversation about how we have had the first conversation but otherwise yes.
Me: I have no memory of this.
Her: Mine is very very crystaline clear.
Me. Huh. Interesting.

SO this time, I decided to simply NOT. I went to New York. And then I came home. And I did not snark at my family or worry. I also did not, in fact, write. I have basically been playing World of Warcraft for a couple of weeks and really concentrating on important MISSIONS, like getting my foot skin looking supple and moisterized because sandal weather is coming and working out and cooking nutritious meals for a sit down family dinner every night and going around being quietly pleased instead of shaking with horror and screaming. I have lost 4 pounds of the eternal five I always gain and lose and the big THRILL moment for the last fortnight has been finding the perfect shade of hot pink toe polish to match my wedgie sandals with the daisies on the side. My life has been chewing its cud in a placid meadow. My life is a cow.

Then The Terrible Thing With A Snake happened. Which I will tell you about tomorrow, though it is very terrible, and you may not want to hear it. OUT OF TIME.

DO NOT FORGET that MIDNIGHT your time tonight is the deadline to enter BLOGGING FOR BOOKS!

Your special guest blogger this month is Autumn, a former B4B finalist who pens Perfection on a Curve. She will narrow the entries down to seven.


If you are one of the seven finalists, your entry will be read by author E. Lockhart, whose new YA book, Fly on the Wall : How One Girl Saw Everything tells the story of a girl named Gretchen who gets to BE a fly on thew wall...in the boys locker room. It's Kafkarriffic!

Posted by joshilyn at April 10, 2006 7:19 AM

Joss-a-lynn! What are you trying to do, upset the delicate balance of the cosmos? You just can't do this! Although, yay, you, on the losing the four pounds and finding the right color nail polish and all. But you must run true to course, dear girl. The world will tip right over and fall on the floor (or something) if you don't. And you wouldn't want that, now would you? K. Now, go write. Then, call Lily. It'll be fine. Trust me.

Posted by: David at April 10, 2006 7:50 AM

Or maybe do a whole different story or something.

So, do you need to kill me now?

Posted by: David at April 10, 2006 8:08 AM

David, sillyhead, I am talking about trying to quit being mentally ILL, not quitting WRITING.

Posted by: joshilyn at April 10, 2006 8:48 AM

I understand the oh-god-I-can't-write-a-novel pain. To me, it always feels like I have this gorgeous symphony in my head, and then what I wind up with on paper is a television jingle. Not even a jingle for a national multimillion dollar campaign, but a local check cashing store jingle. The descrepancy (sp?) between the symphony and the jingle is EXCRUCIATING. But eventually, after I've revised my jingle 50 kajillion times, it at least improves to a compostition suitable for a middle school piano student's recital. I know I'll probably never reach symphony level, but I hold out hope that one of my future books will be worthy of an audition to Julliard.

Posted by: Renee at April 10, 2006 9:46 AM

Forgive my presumption--my first publishable novel is barely an ARC at this point, so I'm not a "real" writer like you yet. I just wanted to help you with your mental illness as it's familiar to me, and the symphony to jingle analogy always helps me accept (with a smile) how hard it is to write the book I have in my head.

Posted by: Renee at April 10, 2006 9:51 AM

Yes, but CAN you divorce the mental illness part from the writing? I mean, really, they seem such a finely matched pair. Symbiotic as it were. You know, like salt and pepper, peanutbutter and jelly, Bert and Ernie. Could you really bring yourself to separate them? And, can you tell I've had too much sugar this morning?

Posted by: David at April 10, 2006 10:18 AM

I'm going to use a different analogy... can we say calm before the storm?

Joss your processes are always...interestingly intense

Posted by: Cele at April 10, 2006 11:41 AM

But...I sorta like you mentally ill. It's part of your charm! Although having nice feet in pretty shoes and being four pounds thinner is good, too...guess I'll like you no matter what! ;)

Posted by: Amy-GO at April 10, 2006 12:08 PM

Ooooh, I love the wedgie sandals with the daisies on the side.

Posted by: Kira at April 10, 2006 12:21 PM

Thank you, Renee, for the wonderful "symphony in head becomes tv jingle on paper" analogy! As someone who makes every excuse in the world not to turn on the word processor so I don't have to look at my awful half-baked mss, I will remember what you said.

And Joss, I understand David's panic. You said you STOPPED writing but didn't say whether you STARTED again. Please don't scare us like this again-- oh, my nerves!

Posted by: Elizabeth at April 10, 2006 12:59 PM

Wait, I'm having deja vu. Didn't WE have the "I cannot possibly write this book" conversation as well? Though, granted, I have not had it with you 4 other times. I think I remembered enough about this post from the Between era to say what I was supposed to say, though ("yes you can" and "oh, look over there, something shiny!").

Posted by: Mir at April 10, 2006 2:00 PM

Dude. No. We had a very calm almost lackadaisical talk where I said, "Hmm, I don't seem to be writing this book very much, do I"
And you said, "But I am sure you will,"
And I shrugged and said, "Prolly."
And you hurriedly changed the subject because you may have remembered the HUGE WEEPFEST that was this part of writing Between. With Between I sobbed until my eyes felt like they were made of sand.

This time, there was no screaming, no tears, and you never ONCE had to reach for the tranq gun. I was, for me, completely zen!

Posted by: joshilyn at April 10, 2006 2:32 PM

Ok.. what do you mean "out of time"... because you have a pending World of Warcraft mission to complete? No... I want to hear about the snake!

YOu know what is great about your blog? You get to watch a writer writing... it's like reality internet for writers. Because if I wanted to learn, say, cooking... I might say "let's watch someone cook" so I could learn the proper technique, then I'd flip on Emeril and learn... or with riding horses I'd go watch someone ride a horse and learn techniques and be a better rider. But with this whole writing thing... there's no one to really "watch".

Except you. Because I now that I know that you flop around on the ground and whine like a two year old on crack then I know it's ok when I do it.

Or rather, my husband now knows that it's ok for me to do that.

Posted by: Heather Cook at April 10, 2006 2:40 PM

Wait...haven't we had this conversation before?

Honey, if you tell us you're *not* having a nervous breakdown and add that you are also *not* writing, WE'RE going to have the nervous breakdown!

Posted by: Katrina Stonoff at April 10, 2006 3:41 PM

That's it, Heather! "Reality internet for writers." So, Joss, good for you for not having a mental break! But, ummmm, are you going to start writing again? I mean 4 lbs lighter and the perfect shade of nail polish are reasons to re-enter the fray, right?

O, and have you heard of the schlocky new B-movie "Snakes on a Plane"? It hasn't come out yet, but already has a cult following. Looking forward to your scary snake story.

Posted by: Edgy Mama at April 10, 2006 4:10 PM

I am so jealous that you only do this when you're a third/half into a book. I do it throughout, like every line. If I had a symphony, it would be the part everyone knows of Beethoven's Ninth, and the lyrics would be "I I I I suck suck suck suck/Oh my God I suck... so much..." just kind of on a constant loop.

They tried measuring my mental illness number once, but the machine turned into HAL from 2001, burst into flames, and ran screaming from the room. You should see what happens with psychics...

Posted by: Cornelia Read at April 10, 2006 4:15 PM

If that snake is rollerblading and wearing pink socks I shall be vexed.

Posted by: rams at April 10, 2006 9:49 PM