The Sneaky Guilt Spiral

My debut novel, IN THE SHADOW OF THE GODS, comes out in a month. It still feels surreal, and I’m still half-convinced it’s all some elaborate prank…but I’m starting to accept that it might actually happen. My book is going to be on shelves. People are going to read it. People are going to love it or hate it. It’s all happening.

I turned in my manuscript for the sequel, THE BONES OF THE EARTH, two weeks ago. I’ve got the third book to write, I’ve got some interviews to answer, and a few guest posts/guest blogs to write.

But in the last two weeks, I’ve written maybe 400 words total. Considering my daily goal is 400 words, this is failure by any measurement I’ve ever used.

Usually, I’d be able to use this as great self-motivation. See, when it comes down to it, the thing that motivates me the most is guilt. In my writing, that usually means giving myself a daily guilt trip to start writing, to get past the first 200 words, to not stop at 350 words (you lazy bastard), to keep writing past 400 if it’s going really well (because what if it doesn’t go so well tomorrow). That sounds a little harsh, writing it all out like that, but it’s what works for me.

Except it hasn’t been working. I sit down to write and stare at the blinking cursor, and let myself get distracted by the endless internet, and the usual guilt trip just makes me avoid looking back at that empty, blinking cursor even more. The usually-motivating guilt just makes me feel worse, and so I do less writing, which makes me berate myself more, which makes me guiltier…

I got caught in a sneaky guilt spiral.

I had an epiphany the other night, when a simple “How’s it going?” text from a writer friend resulted in a too-honest, half-panicked response from me, where I admitted for the first time that writing, lately, was not going great at all. That simple admission was what I needed to realize that I wasn’t being a lazy writer, I wasn’t procrastinating into oblivion. Something was wrong, and–as cliche as it is–acceptance of that was the first step to recovery.

So I let myself off the hook. With deadlines looming, I told myself it was okay to only write 50 words. It was okay to get distracted online. It was okay to not even make it to my computer and spend way too much time watching mindless TV dramas. It’s okay not to be a writer, for just a little while.

The jury’s still out on if that’s actually helped: out of the last five days, I’ve written anything on two of them…but one of those days, I wrote nearly 700 words. That’s not nothing. Maybe it’s an anomaly. With the same deadlines looming even closer, I hope it’s not. But it’s about the small steps at this point. It’s about making writing not feel like a chore again, about slowly turning my guilt back into motivation…and that has to start somewhere.

I wish I had a better ending for this. (Endings are always the hardest to get just right.) I wasn’t going to post this at all; I have a hard enough time talking publicly about myself when it’s fun, exciting stuff. But…

As an aspiring writer, I always loved seeing authors talk openly about money, about life balance, about reality. It felt like an unprecedented insight into the life I wanted. It felt like research, and any writer worth their salt will tell you research is vital.

I’m an author now. (If I say it often enough, it’ll feel real eventually.) When I signed my first contract, I decided I wanted to be the kind of author who documented the whole process. The kind of author who aspiring writers could look to for one account of what it’s really like.

So this is what it’s like, for me at least. Mostly good, with some scary sprinkled in for added flavor. That’s life, I suppose.

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