What New Insanity Is This? OR: The One About Anxiety

So the last few months have been a little crazy. When did I post last? January. So, I guess I talked about my grandma. And then the holidays. I may even have mentioned an amazing meeting with Lev Grossman over coffee, where I also met the talented and accomplished novelist Michelle Hodkin. Maybe one of my sons went in for emergency surgery in the midst of all that? Probably.

Then we had two birthdays (Monty and Everett) in January, and then because we simply didn’t have enough to do, we moved our family to a new home in a new town on February 1.

New House

Eli had his birthday on the 19th and then I moved into a new office the next weekend.

New Office

So all that happened, plus other stuff. I don’t really remember most of it.

Well, here it is March and that craziness is mostly behind me. It’s actually sort of calm in these parts. I’m waking up at reasonable times, playing with the kids occasionally, even reading books again. I mean, what is up with that? Something must be done. Conversations must be had. Like this one:

Me: Whew, glad that’s behind me.
Me: I know, right? But… uh-oh… Oh no.
Me: What? What now? Did something happen?
Me: Yes, something terrible. I… I can’t… I can’t… just… relax…
Me: Oh dear…
Me: Must… do… something… CRAZY.
Me: Oh no…
Me: Sigh. Okay, but no more than an hour a day, okay? No more.
Me: Right. Okay. I can live with that.

So, that’s what this is. Here’s the rules:

  • A blog entry, on this blog, every day for 30 days
  • No more than half an hour drafting each
  • No more than half an hour editing each draft
  • At the end of the second half hour, hit PUBLISH
  • No matter what

Probably, it will be mostly crap. You’ve been warned. Here’s today’s, On Anxiety.

Anxiety is a big problem for me. A short (not exhaustive) list of my anxiety triggers:

  • Someone criticizes me
  • Someone I trust appears to be lying
  • Or suggests that I should lie about something
  • Or I think that maybe they think that I might be lying
  • Or I remember a time when someone thought I was lying
  • I receive an email that is very brief and might, if you read between the lines, mean that someone is unhappy with me and is about to do something terrible like say something passive-aggressive
  • I open the log-in screen for our bank account
  • I look at our bank account
  • I look at our expenses
  • I think about money in any context whatsoever
  • I find a lump under my arm that has been there forever and is just the knot of scar tissue from my abscess several years ago, but maybe this time it means I have cancer

One thing that helps with the anxiety is meditation, and another thing that is much harder but also helps, is running.

So I’ve been running. I know, right? Who does that. Every morning, too. Crazy. I don’t like running. I don’t really much like moving if I can help it. Put me on a couch, with my feet up, and a laptop in my lap, and I am happy.

But every once in a while, you see, something I really want to do requires that I get up and do it–like book conventions, for instance. And if all I’ve done for six months is sit on my butt and write, then I have no stamina for the really cool thing I want to do. Plus, if I die early because my body doesn’t know how to keep going any more, I won’t have stamina for the rest of the things I want to do either. Death is funny that way.

So I got a health coach, and she told me I have to run. Every. Day. Did you know that when you run, sometimes you start breathing hard? And you’re supposed to keep running. Seriously hard-core, folks.

So I’ve been doing that and it pretty much sucks.

Then I picked up a book, Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, a true story about a SEAL team involved in the disastrous Operation Redwing. I don’t really like the guy. He’s brazen and arrogant and not particularly self-aware. How he loves the party line! But it was a fascinating read, once I decided to view him as a character in a story instead of a real person who gets under my skin.

This stuck out for me:

“The temperature seemed to grow colder as we jogged around in the freezing surf… We all dived back onto the sand. Crawling, itching, and burning. Five guys quit instantly and were sent up to the truck. I didn’t understand that, because we had done this before. It was bad, but not THAT bad… I guess those guys were just thinking ahead, dreading the forthcoming five days…”

So yesterday I thought about that while I was running. I would get all out of breath and my legs would hurt, and I would just ask myself: “This is bad, but is it THAT bad? Am I just freaking myself out, thinking ahead?”

And then I started asking myself: “Can I take one more step?” And when the answer is “yes,” I do it. “Can I take one more step?” Yes. Going up hills, when my breathing is hard and my legs hurt and I feel like I’m gulping air like a fish: Can I take one more step? Yup. Okay. Another? Yup. One more? Yes.

And then, at some point, usually long before I expect it, my timer goes off. It always surprises me. Really? I think. But I only need to take one more step… I could go on forever like that, I think. One step at a time.

Not that I want to, mind you. Being the essential couch potato that I am, I always DO stop as soon as that timer goes off. But conceptually, you understand, theoretically, I COULD go on much, much longer. One step at a time.

It’s the ultimate anxiety-buster, to remember this the rest of the time too. You don’t have to know how you’re going to pay the bills on the first or whether a friend is lying to you or if you’ll die young of cancer. You only have to know what you are doing right now, this instant. You only have to take one step, the one right in front of you.

Same thing for writing a book. I feel like I’ve been writing forever. I have days, weeks, maybe months more work to do, before I can submit a query for my first book to agents. Edits, revisions, query letter, and a dadgum title still to write. But I don’t have to do any of that right now. All I have to do is the next step. This page, this scene, this sentence, this word.

Can I take one more step? You betcha. Dunno about the one after that, but this step I can take.

My Novel Pitch and My Cat Has Polyps

About 80% of the way through my first draft, I had an opportunity to pitch my novel. It was great exercise, forced me to focus in on the essence of the story I was telling, and helped me bring it in to the conclusion. Here’s the pitch I wrote:

Jed, a boy outcast among his own, discovers he can talk to plants… and soon realizes his gift could end 2,000 years of human enslavement. Will he be the people’s savior, or will the ensuing war destroy everything worth saving?

So, anyway.

I finished the novel yesterday, the first draft. Headed straight into revisions.

Feels like there should be fanfare, and at the same time it feels like there shouldn’t. Had a little mini-party on Facebook yesterday, but mostly it feels unreal. And I don’t think it’s going to feel real until the draft is ready for beta readers.

Perhaps the issue here is that my cat has polyps in her ear. That is not a metaphor.

Maybe the real issue is that once I’ve accomplished something significant, I realize, well, if *I* did it, it must not be that big an achievement. Finishing the second draft of a novel, that would be a big accomplishment. Except, when the manuscript is finished I’ll probably feel the same way, except then I’ll think, if it gets published, THAT will be an accomplishment. And then only if I become famous. But only if I’m as famous as Rowling. And as enduring as Shakespeare. No, God. Being as important and well-known as GOD would be an accomplishment.

I suck.

Because guess what: I adopted an elderly stray cat several years ago, got her doctored up, fell absolutely madly in love with her, and then recently went over a year without updating her shots or medical care and now she has uncomfortable polyps in her ears and she’s probably going to die in pain because I’m a terrible, terrible cat parent. (Reality check: The jury is out on the painful death.)

This was supposed to be a celebratory post, but obviously I’ve got issues.

I took a break from this mess for a minute, planning to come back and probably delete it all and just leave the pitch at the top and nothing else, because really, this is supposed to be a celebration, Heather.

Then I went and read this. And decided that I’m probably not the only novelist ever who has struggled in this particular way, and that maybe there is value in sharing THIS part of the journey too. This messy, depressive, anxious, uncomfortable part. So here I am.


My cat chose me. This is literally true for me, not just in the way people say their children chose them, or God chose their children for them, or whatever. I mean that I walked up to a yard sale and my cat was there waiting for me, and she came over and said, “Please take me home. I have nowhere else to go, no one to turn to. And I even like your kids.” She said it in cat language, of course, that winding-through-your-legs-purring language cats speak in. And her fleas and her underweight body and her greasy hair and her ear mites also said, “Please, take her home.” (Actually, the ear mites and the fleas would probably rather I hadn’t, come to think of it).

I keep telling myself these stories to pull myself through. And I will pull through. I will learn to love my success. I will. And to forgive myself.

And also: I finished a draft of a novel. I did it.