I found this blog post that I wrote months ago in my drafts. I thought about moving past it without sharing, but I have a feeling it may resonate with some. If it helps even one person, it’s worth putting out there.
From May of 2018…
I jokingly talk about “Cassland” as the imaginary place where I live and that I invite others to visit by reading my blog posts and books. It’s filled with weird puppets, like Barkley, the life-sized kobold wizard, Craig the four-armed space-Sasquatch, and Albert, the extremely intelligent and bizarrely lovable Redcap.
There are ray guns and aliens and werewolves who are aliens and some who are not. There are heroines who save the day with a stick and a quip and heroines who save the day in much darker ways. Vampires, robots, the infinite expanse of space and the closeness of a Polyphemus moth in my own back yard.
It is not reality. And if it’s not real, there can’t be any harm in changing it, right?
Oh, friends. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
I ventured out of Cassland, looking for knowledge. Looking for answers. I knew my stories were quirky, but believed they could—and should—have been doing better than they were. Early in September of 2017, having developed what I considered enough of a back list for that point in time, I hit the pause button on my writing so that I could learn about marketing.
I hefted my metaphorical pack onto my back, kissed my puppets farewell, waved at the lurking monsters, beasts, and characters waiting patiently for their books to be written, and set forth looking for answers to one broad question: How do I connect these awesome stories with more readers?
I should have been more specific.
Now I understand that I wanted to know how to design ads, how to write compelling copy, and generally, how to build my readership.
I did learn. I learned so much. Things that will help my writing be stronger. Things that have connected me with new readers. I have a much better grasp of the business side of being an Indie author, and I’m so grateful for that.
But in the midst of the crap-ton of seminars, articles, social media lurking, and research, research, research, I lost sight of the most important part of this journey.
I love my stories. I love my characters. I love my worlds.
I love writing.
I love the inception of new ideas, the revisiting of old ones. I love the planning and outlining, the discovery of writing the rough drafts (even though I’ll say otherwise while in the midst of them), the edits, the revisions, the more edits, the beta-reader feedback, the even more edits, designing the covers, formatting them, wrapping everything up in a pretty little package, and then holding my finished book in my hands. It’s like Christmas every time. Every. Time.
The more I learned about how I was supposed to be doing things, the worse I felt about my writing. I could only see the things I’d done wrong. The authors I was studying had the readerships I wanted, the success I felt I could one day achieve, if only I fixed how I wrote things.
I was so far off my path, I started trying to shove my stories into tropes (see the upcoming blog post: “Tropes: I’m doing it wrong!” Instead of sitting down to plot out stories or even series arcs, I was thinking first in terms of formulas and marketing structures. I had a list of elements that had to be in place before I wrote the first word of anything ever again.
The more burdens that I placed on my muse’s back, the more she resisted my attempts at any form of creativity. The more constraints I roped around her neck and limbs, the angrier she (and I) became.
I was not very fun to be around.
I disappeared from the social media games I used to play with other writers. I kept thinking, “You have to write to be a writer”, and I wasn’t writing anymore. Whenever I tried to write, I constantly held my work up against what I’d learned would have the broadest appeal. I would criticize myself for writing “too weird” or “too complicated” or “too niche”.
Instead of losing myself in my stories and coming out rejuvenated, I lost myself in my real life, and was constantly agitated. I stopped blogging. I stopped playing. I stopped dreaming. While trying to figure out how to connect with readers, I stopped talking to them.
Then one day, I finally realized where I had lost my way.
“I have to learn how to market my books,” I thought. “It’s part of the business of being an Indie writer.”
“This is true,” I agreed. “But learning about marketing is not the same as learning how to alter your writing so that it is easier to market your books.”
I’m sure some authors can set out to write a book in a way that makes it easier to market. That is amazing and I wish them great success.
I can’t approach my writing this way. Like a wild horse (or unicorn), my muse rears up and then bolts. Lately, it’s felt like she’s giving me a swift kick before running off, just to make sure I know that this is not okay.
I’ve had to come to accept that the mainstream success that I’ve been comparing myself to is not for me. Trying to get there has been breaking me, both as a writer and a human being, because writing is so intrinsic to who I am and those are not my stories.
What I wanted to achieve is not what I needed to achieve.
By looking for answers from everyone else, I stopped being true to myself.
I’ve learned a great deal from this experience. There are pieces to the puzzle that I truly don’t think I could have figured out on my own. But I had to sift through all the knowledge that was given to me and find what works and doesn’t, and most importantly, what I can live and thrive with.
Cassland is real for me. Energetically and creatively, it is real. It’s how I see the world, how I see myself, and how I experience my existence.
It’s the place where my muse lives. So, of course, when I came in and started putting up movie posters for stories I’d never want to watch, and inviting in aspects of reality that carry with them paralyzing fear, I stopped writing.
I did more than that, though. In a big way, I stopped living. I stopped feeding myself with life-giving stories, and activities and friends who fuel me. I’m starting to realize that my muse—my writing, my creative source—is a bigger part of my soul than I ever imagined.
So, I’ve set about healing her, fixing this part of myself that I unintentionally broke for a time. I’m letting myself enjoy the stories that sing to me. I’m eating better, sleeping better, and letting myself enjoy the world around me. I’m reconnecting with my faith in myself and the universe, filling my creative well every way I can. I’m paying attention to what matters most, and finally once again listening to that inner voice that knows what is best for me.