Category Archives: creative writing

panic attacks suck

This is a reprint and expansion of today’s word count entry on my tumblr thing.

I had panic attacks all night long, last night. Each time I fell asleep, I woke up what felt like minutes later, in absolute terror. Like, imagine that you’re on an airplane and everything seems fine, and then it suddenly drops like 1000 feet. You know how you think you’d feel? The rush of adrenaline, the certainty that you were about to die, the helplessness to do anything about it … that’s how I felt all night long (all night, yeah).

I recall four specific times this happened, because each one had some different physical sensation when I woke up. There was the hot tingling in my arms and legs, there was the sense that I was not quite awake, but awake enough to know that the terror was about to hit, and then struggling in vain to prevent it, this cold wave that started in my chest and spread out all over my whole body like ripples in a pond, and the time my heart was beating so hard, I thought I was having a heart attack. Oh, and each time I woke up, I didn’t know where I was. Once, I didn’t know who I was. So I guess that’s five times I can recall, but I know it happened more than that because I didn’t get any meaningful rest. Also, a lot of the neurochemicals that I need to function are only created in my brain when I’m sleeping, so my dumb brain, which is already sort of challenged to give me the juice I need to exist, didn’t get to do its thing. That’s been really great.

I’m lucky that I didn’t have anywhere to be today, so when I finally fell to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, around 6am after my dog asked to go outside, I slept until almost 11. I can function on five hours of sleep, but I can’t function on five hours of sleep after eight hours of intense, adrenaline-draining night terrors.

So this is a long way of saying that I really wanted to work on my rewrite today, but I am mentally exhausted the way I would be physically exhausted if I’d been forced to walk on a treadmill for hours at a time.

I honestly don’t know what to do about this. I’ve had a sleep study done, and I don’t have sleep apnea. I’ve changed my meds more than once, hoping to find one that works for my depression and anxiety when I’m awake, and also when I’m asleep, but there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between these panic attacks and one med or another. I’ve tracked my food (and I don’t drink any more, but it was nights like last night that, until I quit two years ago, drove me to drink so much that I wasn’t capable of waking up), I’ve tried meditation. I’ve tried tons of exercise. I’ve tried no exercise. I’ve tried every bullshit herbal tea pseudo science hokum whatever (and of course none of those things work because they are bullshit, but … desperate people and such). Nothing works, and these panic attacks are the most terrifying and frustrating and upsetting things that just show up without warning, and then just as suddenly go away. I really wish there was something I could do to make them stop, or at least to understand what causes them, so I could get to work on getting my sleeping life back from them.

And because it wasn’t bad enough overnight, all day today, I’ve been anxious and afraid, with a generous helping of existential dread thrown in, because fuck me, right. Go back to imagining that you’re on a plane. Now imagine that the plane is in terrible turbulence, bouncing around, shaking side to side, with a violence that makes you worry that the plane will be torn apart in midair. That’s how I’ve felt all day, like I’m in a swarm of bees. It’s totally irrational, and I know that it’s all in my head and isn’t real, but when the part of my body that is responsible for how I perceive the world and how I exist in it is fucked up, it’s challenging to separate what’s real from what’s just in my head. I’m super grateful that I’ve done so much work with so many licensed professionals over the years, so I can do my best to manage this … because I can assure you that while this is a challenge for me now, it would be close to impossible to deal with if I didn’t have that professional help (ask for and use professional help if you deal with any of the mental health issues I deal with, gang. Please. Trust me on this.)

All of these things go together to ruin my ability to be creative, which is a giant bummer, because I really love being creative. I’m having the time of my life rewriting this manuscript, and I’m so excited to finish this pass so I can give it to some early readers for their feedback. I hope that tonight goes better than last night, so that I can work on it tomorrow. And I just love it that I am having such a good time with this draft, and it’s so satisfying to work on, that I want to stay at my desk and work on the weekend.

an incomplete collection of #wordmetrics from my recent rewrites

Before I get into this post, I want to thank everyone who has sent me feedback about my speech to NAMI.

I never know how these things are going to go over, and I never know if what I had in my head and my heart when I wrote a thing will translate into something similar in the audience. I am always anxious about being misunderstood, even when I’m speaking on a topic I know a lot about. Yay for anxiety! It’s super effective!

It means so much to me to know that I’m helping people. I’ve heard from a ton of parents who didn’t know their kids were living with anxiety, but after reading (or hearing) my stories about my experiences, they can see that their kids need the help that I didn’t get. All I want to do with my time on this Earth is make things that matter, and use the privilege and success I have to help make other people’s lives better. It’s so wonderful to know that this speech I gave (and the essay it is when it’s written) is making a positive difference in the world.

Okay, on to what this post is about: Writing!

Well, rewriting, specifically.

I’ve been working on the rewrite of my novel, which is currently titled All We Ever Wanted Was Everything. It’s a semi-autobiographical work of fiction, about a twelve year-old, coming of age in 1983. The protagonist is a kid who wants to be a writer, and I have no idea where that inspiration came from.

So every time I finish work, I make a post on my Tumblr thingy with the word count and some thoughts about what I did that session. It’s kind of how I cycle the airlock when I come back inside from the deep space solitude of writing all day. It feels good to write it, and I look forward to it every day. It’s like my reward for doing the work, in a way, and it’s nice to have this little diary of the process that I can look back on, to see my progress in more detail that just a word count. I know that some of you who read my blog want to know what’s going on in my creative life, and what I’m working on, so I thought I’d share some of the recent entries.

Each bolded part, and the words that follow it until the nifty little horizontal line, represents one day’s work.

Continue reading… →

perspective and clarity, clarity and perspective.

I did a hell of a lot of work over a few days to finish the first draft of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything. I did three or four days in a row right around 2500 words, and then on the last night before Anne and I left for vacation, I did about 6900, so I could finish the draft. It comes in just over 61000 words, and once I’m done with cuts and rewrites, I think it’ll end up right around 60000.

I started the rewrite yesterday, mostly going over the first part of the story, seeing where I was clearing my throat, figuring out how I can smooth it out and lay the foundation that the rest of the story will build upon, and discovering that a lot of it holds up better than I expected it would, a year after I wrote it.

I made a few small cuts, added some stuff here and there and smoothed out a few places where I was clear in my head but not on the page. I decided this morning that I’m going to completely rewrite the first chapter, to better and more clearly define the geography of the story, and to better introduce all the characters. I’m glad I have the perspective on it that I do, now, because I can see the places where things make sense to me, but will be unclear to a reader unless I change them. I’ve spent so much time in the back third of the manuscript, this early part I’m working through now almost feels like a different book, which makes sense, because I didn’t know I was writing a novel when I started writing this novel.

So yesterday, I did twenty-one pages before I ran out of gas. Twenty-one pages doesn’t feel like a lot, but we all have to start somewhere, and I feel good about my progress.

I know I have a lot of work to do, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be fun and challenging and stressful and cathartic to go back into this manuscript and polish up the parts that need it. The last bit is going to need more work than the rest, because it was all done in such a short amount of time, but I’m doing so much work on the beginning, getting so submerged in the natural current of the narrative, by the time I get to the end and do that work, it may not feel as clunky as it does right now. Does that make sense? I feel like I’m reading and rewriting someone else’s work right now, making it my own for the first time.

I look back on the last three weeks, the focus and discipline that I needed to stay on target and finish telling the story. I keep thinking that I should have just stuck with it back in 2017 when I gave up on doing anything, because of Shitler and my Depression being the worst it’s ever been since I got treatment and started taking better care of my mental health. I keep thinking that this book would be with readers right now, if I’d just kept working on it and finished it a year ago. But Anne pointed out that I needed that time away from it, so I could do the work I needed to do on myself, to be in the place I am now, so I could finish it.

She was right, and I probably (definitely) spent more time beating myself up about not writing than I actually spent writing. It seems so obvious when I look back on a year of little productivity now, with all this perspective and all this work actually done, that even when I was frustrated and not as productive as I wanted to be, I did the best that I could at that moment. I’m always telling kids to do the best they can do, and to be gentle with themselves about it, to acknowledge that what their best is will vary from day to day. I forgot to be awesome to myself, to give myself permission to accept that my best may not have been what I wanted it to be, but it was the best that I could do at that moment. For almost a year, I did the best I could do, and it wasn’t very much, because I hadn’t yet done the emotional and personal work that I needed to do so I could be more creatively productive. But once I did the work I needed to do, including some painful introspection and emotional therapy, I was able to do the work I wanted to do. And now that work is done (well, the first step is done, anyway). And I am proud of it.

Anne is away for a few days at C2E2. I had planned to spend this time I am home with just the dogs in Skyrim, but I feel so good and so excited about working on this rewrite, that instead of goofing off with my NPC friends and looking for power converters, I’m spending this time in a world that I created, in my own head, working on my own story, and then rewarding myself with some Skyrim at night when I’m done for the day.

I’m proud of myself, and I feel good about who I am, where I am right now in my life, and what I’m doing. It feels so good to be doing creative work that matters to me because I want to share it with the world

i just finished the first draft of my first novel

It’s a fictional coming of age story, told in a memoir style. I ‘ve done about 12K words in the last few days, and wrote 6900 words on it today, so I could finish it before Anne and I go on a little vacation tomorrow. I’m going to let it sit and give myself some distance from it, so I can be clear-eyed and objective when I start the rewriting process next week.

making space to be creative

One week and about ten hours ago, I decided to step away from Twitter for a little bit. The specific details aren’t important, and I suspect that many of you reading this now are already nodding in agreement because you grok why. But I took it off my phone, and I haven’t been to the website on my desktop since. For the first 48 hours, I spent a lot of time wondering if I was making a choice that mattered, and thinking about how I wasn’t habitually looking at Twitter every few minutes to see if I’d missed anything funny, or to see the latest bullshit spewing forth from President Fuckface’s mouthanus. I was, ironically, spending more time thinking about Twitter since I wasn’t using it than I spent thinking about it when I was.

It started out as a 24 hour break, then it was a 48 hour break, then it was the weekend, and here we are one week later and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything important. I feel like I’ve given myself more time to be quiet and alone, more time to reflect on things, and I’ve created space in my life to let my mind wander and get creative.

I’m not creating as much as I want to, and I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ll never be able to create as much as I want to, but I’ve gotten some stuff done this week that probably wouldn’t have gotten done if Twitter had been filling up the space that I needed.

Here’s a little bit from my blog post that became a short story that grew into a novella that is now a novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything:

My mother was leaning against her car, talking with one of the other moms, when we arrived. My sister was throwing a Strawberry Shortcake doll into the air and catching it while they watched. I walked out of the bus and across the blazing hot blacktop to meet her.

Willow, catch!” My sister cried, sending Strawberry Shortcake in a low arc toward me. I caught her without enthusiasm and handed her back. “You’re supposed to throw her to me!” Amanda said, demonstrating. Her doll floated in a lazy circle, arms and legs pinwheeling, before falling back down into my sister’s waiting arms. The writer in me wants to make a clever reference to how I was feeling at that moment, about how I could relate to Strawberry Fucking Shortcake, spinning out of control in the air above us, but it feels hacky, so I’ll just talk about how I wanted to make the reference without actually making the reference, thereby giving myself permission to do a hacky writer’s trick without actually doing it. See, there’s nothing tricky about writing, it’s just a little trick!

It’s still in the first draft, and I may not keep all or even any of it, but after putting it aside for months while I was depressed about too many things to look at it, it feels so good to be back into this story.

Oh, speaking of writing, I got notes back from the editors on my Star Wars 40th anthology submission. I thought that, for sure, they’d want me to rework a ton of it, but all they asked me to do is change a name! And they told me it was beautiful! So I’ve been feeling like a Capital-W Writer for a few days.

And speaking of feeling happy for a change, Hasbro and Machinima announced that I’m a voice in the next installment of the Transformers animated series, Titans Return. And it feels silly to care about this particular thing, but Daily Variety put my name in the headline, which made me feel really, really good.I’ve always felt like the only thing that should matter is the work, and that the work should be able to stand on its own … but that’s not the reality even a little bit. Daily Variety is the industry’s paper of record, so when it chooses to put you in the headline of a story, people pay attention and it matters in the way that can make the difference between getting called for a meeting, or the last ten years of my life as an actor.

It’s also a good reminder that, even if I’m not getting the opportunities I want to be an on-camera actor, it is entirely within my power to create the space I need to be a writer.