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.

this is a post about sweaters (no, not those sweaters)

It’s been a strange couple of weeks, here in Castle Wheaton. Anne was gone for six days, came home for literally twenty-two minutes and left again for another day. When she got home, we saw each other for about an hour, and then I had to go to sleep early to wake up early to fly across the country for two days. When I got back, she had to leave again for Piggy and Pug promotion, and it wasn’t until last night that we finally had an opportunity to make dinner together and catch up on all the stuff we did while we were gone.

“I have been feeling this strong compulsion to clean stuff up,” I told her while we were finishing dinner. “I wonder if it’s some kind of Spring Cleaning impulse that I’ve never noticed before.”

“More like never had before,” she reminded me.

“Okay, that’s fair,” I said.

We ate the empanadas we’d made. They were better than I expected.

“Hey, speaking of that,” she said, “will you come into our bedroom with me for a minute?”

Heckyeahsexytimesdottumblrdotcom I thought. “Sure,” I said.

I have this big pile of sweaters and hoodies at the foot of our bed. I keep meaning to put them away, but my closet is a shitshow and the shelves are a disaster. I have a box on the top shelf where most of my sweaters and scarves live when we aren’t having our three to five weeks of winter in Los Angeles. It is currently … not optimal.

“What’s going on with …” she indicated with her hand, sort of twirling it around like Vanna White, but with a little more distaste, “… this … stuff. Here.”

“Oh, those are all my dumb sweaters. I already put a bunch of them away, and I just need to find some room in the closet to put the rest of them away.”

“Isn’t that what your box is for?”

“Yes, but it’s already full. I must have added sweaters to my life this winter, and now I’m past the critical mass for sweaters.” I shrugged. “But don’t worry, I’m going to put them away tomorrow. I just need to clean up that shelf and get it more organized.”

“You’re going to put them in the bin that’s already full?”

“No, I’m going to put them in the spot next to the box, which is currently a jumble of kilts and horsemasks.”

She looked at me with a mixture of amusement and disbelief.

“…a jumble … of …” she was unable to finish the thought.

“This is who you married,” I said. “You did this on purpose.”


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.

6595 words (61486 total) on All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

…and that is a completed first draft of my first novel.

21 pages of rewrites on All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

Mostly going over the first part of the story now, 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 can tell that I’m going to have to go over this part again, after I’ve done the real heavy lifting in the later chapters, and I may even wait until it goes to a couple of first readers to hear their feedback on this part, because I’m a little too close to it.

Twenty-one pages doesn’t feel like a lot, but it’s about 10%, which feels like a solid start to the rewriting process.

Rewrote about 4000 words on All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

It works out to just about ten pages, and it overlaps with the twenty-one I already worked on, but I needed to go back and make this as good as it can be, because it’s introducing the reader to the world and the characters.

I feel good about what I wrote today. I felt good enough to print it out and share it with Anne, which I never do. She’s reading it right now.

I’m probably going to go over this again after I get beta reader feedback, but I’m happy enough with where it is now (and it’s helped me focus on bringing out the narrative voice I eventually found over 61000 words) to save it and keep moving forward.

I really love this process. It’s incredibly rewarding and satisfying.

1400ish words (62439 total) on the Rewrite of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

I worked for about seven hours, and I thought I was making a lot of cuts today, but it turns out that I was adding more than I took away.

I’m going to come back to this section one more time, because it’s not quite there, yet, but it’s closer than it was before I started, and that’s the point of the work right now.

11 pages and about 1000 words on the All We Ever Wanted Was Everything rewrite

I got to the first part of the existing draft that made me go, “Oh this part is awful. What was I thinking?”

It turns out that I was thinking that I needed that part (about half a page) to get from the part that preceded it to the part that followed it, so I cut it and wrote something new to connect them.

There’s a big scene that I’m on the fence about. I stared at it for an hour, starting and stopping and undoing and redoing and finally deciding to just walk away from right now. I’ll come back and do some more work on the second rewrite pass, I think.

I have come to realize that this first rewrite isn’t about getting the book to its final form; this is about getting the manuscript from what I thought it was to what it became, so the tone and pacing all work out in a logical way. It’s about cutting out the things that I thought would lead into stuff later on that never materialized, and adding new stuff in places where I decided I wanted to pay something off.

I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m enjoying the process that I’m in right now, even when it feels like I’m spinning my wheels in some mud.

About 10 pages and 1400 new words on the rewrite of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.

Right now, the manuscript is sitting at  64222 words. At one point today, it was over 65000, so I know that I’m doing a lot of shaping and scraping and cutting and other things that you do with clay but can be applied to writing if you squint.

This is really starting to come together, and I’m making a good deal of progress turning what I thought I was writing when I started into what I figured out I was writing when I finished. And I’m still enjoying the process, which I keep mentioning so I can remember when I inevitably decide that this is all terrible and I never should have started it in the first place.

This is the third day in a row that I’ve wanted to keep working, but I’ve sort of run out of creative focus and energy after five or so hours. That seems like a very short work day, and maybe someday I’ll stop feeling like I’m slacking off when I do what is a full day of work for me.

Four pages and a couple hundred words on the rewrite of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

I had a lot of actor-y work to do today, so I didn’t have the time or creative focus to do much writing. I didn’t accomplish all that much, but I did make a lot of notes about what I want to do tomorrow when I have the day to focus and do the work I want to do.

Imagine that: working on a Saturday, on purpose, because you’re so excited about the work you’re going to do.

A few hundred words added and cut from All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (current count: 64896 words).

I’m at a point in the manuscript where I felt really confident on the first draft, so I’m not making a ton of changes, just cleaning up things where I find repetitions and expanding a little bit, here and there, when I find a spot that can use a little more detail.

I spent about four hours with the manuscript today, reading most of it aloud so I can literally hear it. It’s tiring work, but it’s deeply satisfying and a lot of fun. I’d keep going, but I know that I’m at a point where I’ll get diminishing returns and a lot of stuff that just has to be rewritten tomorrow. So even though I feel like a slacker for not doing more work, I’m going to call it for the day and quit while I’m ahead.

1464 words (66363 total) on the rewrite of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

For those of you who are new to my Tumblr thing: this is a coming of age story, set in 1983. It’s semi-autobiographical, but a work of fiction. I started it as a blog post, it grew into a short story, then a novella, and I eventually stopped fighting it and let it become a novel.

Today, I cut and massaged a few hundred words, and then added a scene that I’m probably going to cut, but I needed to write it for reasons that I don’t fully understand, but know to be true. Writing is weird like that for me, this intersection of technical work and intangible inspiration that somehow comes together to make a story happen. It isn’t always easy going, and at least once in every draft, I feel like I’m a complete fraud and it’s all terrible, and what was I ever thinking trying to tell this story … but I’ve learned that when that happens, it’s just part of the process. I don’t listen to those voices of doubt and nonconstructive criticism, and I just keep on going so I can fix it later.

Today was a little tough, because this scene came out of nowhere and demanded to be written, and it wasn’t what I was planning to do with my time. But it was satisfying to work on and even if I do end up cutting it, I know that it served some purpose that will reveal itself to me eventually.

I wish I had more creative energy and focus to keep going, but I know it’s time to stop, so I’m calling it a day.

I just realized that I feel like this every day, and if I’m going to be a full time storyteller, I guess that’s a good thing.

607 words (66970 total) on the rewrite of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything

I got through about 30 pages today, and if my math is correct, I’m a little over 60% through this draft.

I was very happy when I first wrote the section I went through today, and I was pleasantly surprised to feel like it held up. I’d even forgotten parts of it, so it was like reading something for the first time (that I hadn’t even written).

The last couple of pages feel kind of jarring, which I think is okay because it’s at that dramatic point in the story, but I’m not entirely sure it works and flows together as well as it can. I’ll have to get feedback from early readers on that, and it’ll be pretty easy to fix if a consensus emerges.

I had this lovely moment of tremendous satisfaction while I was working today, when I felt like I loved this story a lot, felt good about the work I’d done to create it, and like it didn’t suck. I felt … I guess I felt proud of myself, which is not a thing I usually feel (that’s not false humility, I just do my best to stay as neutral and close to even on the scale of delighted to despondent). I felt legit excited for other people to read this book, which is a welcome respite from the paralyzing fear that nobody will like this and I’m terrible at everything I try to do.

As usual, I really want to keep working, but I’m going to roll my document back about ten pages and pick it up tomorrow, overlapping on where I worked and finished today, just in case I have better perspective when I haven’t been working on it for hours.

912 words (67882 total) on the rewrite of All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.

As I suspected at the end of the day yesterday, I went back over a lot of what I did yesterday, and did a lot of work around it. I made some cuts, expanded some scenes, and rewrote some stuff even more than I had yesterday, to bring it in line with the character arcs that weren’t ultimately defined until I finished the entire first draft.

I’m at a point in the narrative where there’s a lot of conflict, some of it pretty intense, and it’s not my favorite thing to write. The part of me that’s been an actor my whole life comes out when I’m writing, and I emotionally share in the experiences of the characters. I don’t just hear their dialog as I’m writing it; I feel their dialog as they say it.

Maybe this is all booga booga and indulgent, but it’s the way I work and always have. I haven’t asked other writers if they have a similar experience when they’re working, and I think I will, so I know how many standard deviations away from normal writers I am on this one.

If I’m doing pages, I stayed on the same six-ish pages all day today, and I’ll probably stay on the sixth page for much of the next time I work on this, because I know that particular, conflict-y, bit of the story needs me to work on it more, when I’m not feeling all worn out by it.

I wrote that yesterday. I thought I’d write today, but I have an early flight tomorrow morning and I ended up spending all of today getting ready for the trip.

But if you’ve gotten this far, you are probably interested in this ask from my ask thingy:

steellily asked 

When you’re in your editing phase, how do you quantify your progress? When writing initially it’s easy to say, “today I wrote 1,000 words,” but when editing I’m struggling to feel like I’ve accomplished anything if I’m not generating new words. Which, I’m sure you know isn’t a great way to mark editing progress. How are you measuring your progress right now?

Well just doing the work is progress, and you can always quantify things by pages, but the risk there is that you start skimming pages and not doing the deep work that you may need to do, because it doesn’t feel as productive to really work out something over three pages as it does to get twenty pages behind you.

More specifically to your question: every day and every project is different, but my progress on rewrites is usually counted in pages done and hours worked. But because I started doing daily words here when I was on my first draft, I’ve kept the same format. It’s sort of like punching out at the end of the day for me, and I like the ritual.

If I counted today in pages, I made it through about eight pages, and I added about two and a half, maybe almost three. I worked for about four hours before I ran out of gas (because I spent three hours before I got started doing boring Adulting things, like going to the store, taking care of my dogs, answering emails, approving comments on my blog, etc.)

In LibreOffice, I’m on page 68 of 139, so I have a ways to go before I finish the first rewrite, and can hand it off to some beta readers for feedback before I go at it again.

I suspect this post won’t get a ton of comments, because it’s one of those things that people tend to skip over. But if you got all the way to the end, you’re probably one of the people who cares about this process. If you have questions about my writing process, please ask them. I’ll do my best to answer them all over the coming days.