Some of you who follow me on social may have noticed that over the past few months, I've been having a hard time. (I mean, who hasn't been right now?) Now that I'm feeling in a little more steady, grounded place I wanted to talk about this past almost year since this started. 


I wish I could say for sure what triggered this depressive spiral, maybe it was the bad flare-up of my own imposter syndrome at DragonCon in 2016, maybe it was a change in the weather, maybe it was burn out. The truth is, I don't know what exactly happened. All I know is that starting in September of 2016, I started feeling off.

Now a lot of people have off days, and that's what I assumed was happening. Oh, I'm just really busy right now, things will get back to normal soon. I kept working, pushing past all those warning bells as all of my carefully built routines started falling apart. 


I started sleeping only 3 or 4 hours a night despite laying in bed for 10 hours. I started eating nothing but junk. I stopped brushing my teeth. I had to force myself to shower. Eating became either a chore I was forced to do or a binge I couldn't stop. But still, I kept trucking right along. I had dreams to reach and dreams don't work unless you do, right? 


Then in November things took a sharp turn (and I don't just mean from the election). I lost my ideas. 


I'm not talking about writer's block, about not wanting to write, about not finding the right words or avoiding the page because I don't wanna. I mean that the river of ideas in my head dried up. I couldn't imagine anything. Instead of my usual daydreams of epic sword fights or daring rescues, all I could imagine was a barren field. Nothing grew, nothing reached out for me to create it.

I tried to keep writing but against this field of empty, I felt hopeless. I forced myself onwards, finished manuscripts by piecing together outlines, tried to make myself feel enough to write compelling characters. I didn't stop but I did reach out for help, kept going to therapy, started taking medication. 


But nothing changed and when the new year hit, usually my favorite time of the year (I fricking love goal setting y'all), I just didn't care. I didn't want to set any goals. I couldn't even think of the future, everything was a gaping black nothing consuming everything and giving nothing.


I decided maybe I just needed a little break. I gave myself a week off... still, nothing returned. I tried to read but even that was a struggle. I could enjoy the flow of the words but even with some of the most vibrant prose, I couldn't see the story. It was like someone kept trying to play an empty film reel where the daydreams should be. 

I wondered if maybe my time as a creative was done, that maybe I wasn't meant for making things, that I'd been wrong my whole life about what I loved and what I wanted to do. 

But I kept quiet about it. Told absolutely no one (including my therapist, yeah I know) and kept faking along like everything was fine and that I had stuff on the back burner just waiting to be published.

I was ashamed of how broken and empty I felt. I've always prided myself on being a fast writer, on producing, on making content, on never having a shortage of things to do. I felt like if I didn't have that, then what did I have? Who was I really? Would any of my friends even like me if I couldn't write ever again? Had the past 20 years just been a fluke of creativity? 

I've never not been able to at least daydream, never not been able to at least turn inwards for some ridiculous story with swords and magic. But this time, those daydreams left me too. It felt like a literal part of me had just packed up its bags and left in the dead of night. I didn't know how to function, who I was or what to do. I decided I would finish my 2017 conventions and then hang up my writing hat for good.

I believed that I wasn't able to create any more, that everything I was, was a lie and that I just hadn't been able to see it. Even as I was promising to write books for people, talking about my upcoming projects, I was making plans to leave the creative world. (Here's a big caveat here, when I say leave the creative world, that's exactly what I mean. I did not/do not have any intentions of harming myself.)

I wish I could say that then there was a big light bulb moment and the light and daydreams returned with a thunderous roar that swept me away. But it hasn't. I've been able to dig through the barren earth and force out a few things, with a lot of work, a lot of effort, and mainly a streak of stubbornness a mile wide and the depth of the Mariana Trench. 

But y'all: today, I had an idea. 

An honest to goodness idea. I hid in the bathrooms and wept because of this one, honestly kind of shitty, little idea. It's just one and it might be terrible but it's my terrible baby and if that trickle means that the well is starting to replenish then I will welcome it with open arms.

But the truth is, I'm not back. I'm not anywhere near 100% again, I'm maybe at 15% and for right now, I'm learning to be okay with that. It's hard because I like things to move quickly, I like to always be busy and right now I'm trying to learn that slow is okay too. There's no shame in taking a day to play a video game and do nothing productive. There's no shame in taking time to stretch and walk. There's no shame in not being able to be perfect all the time. I'm not a fast learner y'all so I'm still working on it. 

So all this to say, hey, sorry that I was planning on quietly dropping out of the convention, writing world that I so dearly love, sorry about lying that things were fine and that oh yeah I'm totally writing that thing we talked about (don't worry John, I am for real writing that thing we talked about).

I'm putting this all out there because the worst part of all of this was how utterly alone I felt. I felt like I couldn't tell anyone, that no one would understand but that's not true.

I'm not alone and neither are you. 
 

Source: Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash
Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy

Sharing time! I'm obsessed with productivity tips and blogs. Articles like '7 Habits Only Happy People Have' and '12 Ways You Waste Time Every Day' devour my morning and leave me feeling productive even when I have literally just spent 3 hours on LifeHacker and have nothing to show for it but chapped lips, dry eyes and a lingering sense of guilt. 

While I love reading about these tips, it's just because it feels productive without me having to actually do anything hard. Reading an article? Psssha, that's easy work and a total time waster, but this article will teach me how to optimize my morning so I get everything done and become a productivity ninja! 

That's not to say that these articles don't share good advice or fun tidbits of information that make you feel great about yourself. (I mean, did you know that millionaires tend to smile a lot. I smile a lot, I'm totally on the way to being a millionaire since we have so much in common.) However, at some point, it's time to stop with the fun articles and buckle up for a ride. 

Accomplishing things sucks sometimes. Even things you're excited about can be hard to motivate yourself for. I love the novel I'm working on but some days the last thing in the world I want to do is park my cute, little butt in a chair and sit (or stand) at my desk to write. I love the story, the characters, everything, but UGH WHY CANNOT I TELEPATH MY STORY INTO PEOPLE'S HEADS?

But the work is necessary. There are some ways that might make it easier. For example, setting a timer and racing to see how many words I can type in 25 minutes (My best record was 2,003 whoo!) gets me typing and having fun. Some days though, that just doesn't work. I sit at my computer for an hour and type three words and ignore the timer. 

It's a matter of working with myself and knowing that sitting down to work is the only way this project will get done. So yeah, I might pop on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or the whole of the Interwebs, but eventually, I fall back into my work because I know I have to or it won't happen. A simple motivation? Maybe, but it's the one that stays constant. 

I still dream of being a productivity ninja who talks about how I rise at 5 am to go on a 6-mile run before having a kale smoothie and meditating for twenty minutes, but I don't think I ever will be. And I'm totally okay with that. But what I can do is work with what I am, which is a procrastinating over-achiever who wants to live in a Real Simple magazine but would only break everything I touched there. 

And that's okay because who wants a kale smoothie anyways?

Source: Photo by Michał Kubalczyk on Unsplash
Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesPersonal

I’m an incredibly anxious person. I over worry about everything. For example, I once panicked about what I was going to wear on a flight to interview for a job in Oregon… BEFORE I had even submitted my job application for the position. I’m always thinking 15 steps ahead, and at least 13 of those steps are worst case scenarios and what could go wrong.

I live with the constant thought that people always hate it when I text or email them because I’m bothering them. I worry that I responded too quickly to a message; I worry that I responded too slowly to a message and that either option means I’m a lost cause and this person will no longer respect or like me. I wake up some mornings with a sense of doom that wraps around my neck like a wool scarf suffocating me in the middle of July.

I stress out about what’s going to happen today, tomorrow, in a month, a year, ten years, twenty years. I panic about the imaginary things I haven’t done yet, and I worry that the things I have done, I’ve done all wrong somehow. I worry that every time I mess up even in the slightest, that I’ve doomed myself forever and should just go shove my head in the ground and hide.

It’s an exhausting way to live, and sometimes it flares up in wickeder than usual ways that leave me ill, depressed, and a general mess who just wants to lock myself in my room so I don’t have to interact with anyone.

Sometimes I can write my way through it, and other times I’m so worried that what I’m writing is awful, and therefore I’m awful that I can barely write a sentence. One of the things I struggle with as a writer is building high enough conflicts because tension worries me (yes even fictional tension) and I just want things to go smoothly which doesn’t make for compelling stories exactly.

I write this not because I want coddling or anything like that (and I worry immensely that’s what this post will be taken as), but because I know it’s a problem, and I’m not going to continue to hide from it, instead I’m working on ways to manage it.

·       I run, walk, or just jump in circles in my room.

·       I send a message to someone I admire and tell them why they’re amazing.

·       I look through a folder of all of the things I have accomplished.

·       I keep track of what I do every day, and praise myself for finishing things.

·       I do yoga or just lay on the floor and listen to the sounds of a thunderstorm.

Sometimes these work, some days it’s like trying to run from a swarm of killer bees that I can already feel digging into my skin. No day is perfect, and I’ve come to accept that and to try to not (hahahaha) worry about it.

I know I spend most of my time on this blog talking about writing, but this is a part of my writing (and every day life) that I don’t mention much, and I feel like it’s time to own it. Writing on some days is like trying to wade through a locust swarm in my gut that’s constantly trying to devour me from the inside out. But the things I want to write help me make it through the storm and to the other side where I can see the non-bug-infested light again.

I wish there were some piece of advice, some great tip from a self-help book that I could pass along, but the truth is, I just sort of throw a dart towards where I want to go and blindly push forward through locust swarms and all. Some days I lay down and let the bugs crawl all over me, and some days I walk through beautiful sunlight. But at the end of the day I try to do the best I can with what I’ve got going on, and to just keep pushing forward. You’re not alone.

Source: Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash
Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesPersonal

When I was first starting to really take myself seriously as a writer (as in writing every day and trying to actively get published), I remember thinking that I was way too boring to write anything exciting. I mean, I don't do drugs, or get black out drunk every night. I don't go wild and travel through dangerous areas in the dead of night. Hell, I think the most dangerous thing I do on a regular basis is walk into my bookshelf nearly every morning when I'm getting ready for work because despite nearly a year of it being in the same place, it's always a surprise!

I grew up with stories about the wild antics of writings, with the motto 'write drunk, edit sober' being thrown around by everyone I knew. I always thought I was too much of a bore to fit in, but what I've found over the last few years has been the opposite. Schedules actually help me keep at my writing more than any sort of wild life ever could. 

Knowing that I'm home by 4 every day and sticking to the schedule lets me prepare to write. It's become a habit now. I don't have to sit and wait to be inspired to write, it's simply 4:00 and time to write. Most of the writers I know who are successful do this. They write and take care of themselves. There are always exceptions to the rule, but by and large, the writers who are making it in the creative world work on schedules, not whims. 

Now clearly not every day works out in an ideal way, but having a steady life where I am not totally clueless about what's coming next helps keep me grounded. When I'm not stressing about what's going to happen tomorrow (or where I'm going to get my next fix) keeps me focused on the story at hand. I've fond that the only real way to get any writing accomplished is really simple: sit on your butt (or stand at your standing desk) and write. There's nothing else that puts the words into the world. Not talking about writing, not daydreaming, not reading. At the end of the day the only way to write is.... to write.

And a boring, stable life helps that happen.

Now, that doesn't mean you have to keep a boring life in all aspects. Try new things, travel to new places, eat weird food that you can't pronounce, and do things that scare you, but never feel like having a stable life is a disadvantage when it comes to being creative.

Source: Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash

Confession time!

I am a morning person. I love the morning. I love getting up early and getting things done before other people are out of bed. I love breakfast more than any other meal in the world (except maybe brunch) and I want to eat the second I open my eyes.

Most of my friends are night people (RESPECT!) but I would much rather go to bed early and deal with the world in the morning. Things get weird after midnight. What's embarrassing about this is how long it took me to actually admit. I like the idea of being a night person, and the countless articles floating around about how night owls are more creative makes my writer self chafe.

I tried for many years to make night owl work for me. I'd stay up late with my friends, write at night, and generally shun the day, but it never led to me being very good at being well...me. I became a miserable zombie just blindly poking at a keyboard and hoping for the best.

Everyone has their own quirks and their own habits for writing. You develop a system that works. Some people write in coffee shops or else not at all while other people can't write anywhere but their office. Neither one of them is wrong, just different. Over the years, I've realized that fighting against your process is dumb and helps nothing. I know I write better in the morning but I constantly try to write at night because that's what so many other people do. I might be a strong, independent woman but that allure of 'writing the right way' keeps drawing me back even though I know there is no one right way.

Write when you can when it's best for you, and forget what other people are doing. Maybe some people would rather sleep until noon and write until 3 am, if it works for them awesome! Maybe some people write in marathon 10,000 word binge all nighters. But don't ever feel like someone else's process has to be yours.

What works for you might even change over the years and that's okay. Life happens, circumstances change and you keep rolling with it. Writing can be a chaotic, emotionally draining pursuit, don't make it harder by trying to be someone you're not. There is no one magical right way to write, it's whatever way works for you.

Source: Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

The process of editing and rewriting.

Cutting words from your work can suck. It can, without a doubt, be one of the toughest parts of the writing process, especially when you either a) have to cut a lot of words/pages  b) have to add a lot of words/pages or c) to cut huge sections and redo them.

Figuring out what can stay and what can go is one of the challenges of making your story the strongest it can be. Here are a  few things that can help (and by the way, making gifs on Photoshop is a great way to waste time but an awful way to get editing done.) These are basically things that I do once I have a first draft of a story.

1.     See what words you frequently use.

You can use wordle to create word clouds of your text and examine what words show up the most by how large they appear (and what words in general appear).

Another great way to check this is to use wordcounter which will create a list that shows you exactly how many times a certain word has been used.  Here’s the same story’s results with wordcounter.

I think wordcounter is more practical but I just love how pretty wordle is.

2. Cut any scene that isn’t moving the story forward.

Even if you have written the best description of a thunderstorm ever to have been written, if it isn’t advancing your story then it needs to go. This can be one of the hardest parts and I usually try to save these little gems in a graveyard word document.

One way to find these scenes is to re-read your story and mark the sections you start to skim over. A better way to do this is to ask a friend to mark the sections they skimmed through. If people aren’t reading those sections then something’s wrong and it needs to hit the floor or be reworked.

3. Read your work out loud.

If you stumble, then highlight that section and go back to look at it later, but read your work out loud. You can even ‘cheat’ and have your computer read it to you; this can really highlight areas that are awkward or that drag forever.

4. Check your beginning.

A lot of times the beginning of your story will need to be cut because you started too soon and have too much just meandering until the story actually begins. You can also have the opposite problem where you start the story too late and need to go back and add information. Look at your beginning very carefully when editing.

5. Check your timeline.

Most of the time when I edit, I realize that I have three sun rises in one day, or four Sundays in a week. I’ve started writing out what happens day by day in an old planner to keep myself in line, but checking your timeline is crucial to a good edit.

 

Those are just a very, very few things that I do when I’m going through my first draft. What kind of techniques do you use?

 

Source: Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

I’ve been working away on my latest work in progress, and just crossed the 30,000 word mark last night. I’m hoping to finish it up before the end of this week.

At first I thought I was writing my first draft. And I suppose in a way I am, aside from my outline, this is the first time these characters have seen the light of the page and the first time I’ve told this story to anyone. But, about halfway through, the story veered in a direction I hadn’t seen. I realized I needed to change a major character and rework my main character and the plot in a big way.

For about a day I just stared at this mess of a draft and considered just starting it over again and making all the changes.

I’ve been down that road plenty of times before where I write the first 20,000 words over and over and over in a perpetual groundhog’s day loop of writing.

Instead of sending myself into that kind of hell, I decided to just make a note to myself (set aside with XXX) and keep going as if those changes had already been made.

What this means is that a minor character named Virgil became a main character at word 21,008, and that a main character named Darcy completely disappeared at 24,000 and I never backtracked to fix the words behind them. I’ve even gone back and rechanged the changes I made. So maybe for about 3000 words, Darcy existed again and then was erased for good.

This draft is going to be a mess when I finish, like a Frankenstein monster sewn together with hands on his head instead of ears, and eyes for a belly button. It’s ugly, and gross and going to have to be ripped to pieces to be put back together again. That’s why I’ve decided to call it a zero draft, and not a first draft.

But now that I’m nearing the end of this story, I feel more confident in the characters, in the voice and the story I’m telling. It’s changed drastically, and that’s okay. I’m sure it will change a dozen more times before it’s ready to be unleashed onto the world as a (mostly) right-side together Frankenstein.

The advice I most frequently people at any of the writing panels I’ve been on is to finish what you start, but I’m terrible at following my own advice. I want my first draft to be a perfect story and that just can’t happen (at least not with the way I write) so I make do with what I can make. I paint in the lines as best as I can, and then I go back and clean up.

So, draft zero I hope you’re ready to be finished off…and don’t worry, I’ll get your foot out of your eye socket soon.

Promise.

 

Source: Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesWriting Life

Recently I saw an incredible quote that finally summed up what I felt about luck. It's from a Business Insider article, and is something that Betty Liu heard from her television coach.

"Opportunity + Preparation = Luck" (hence the blog post title, I'm so clever)

You can be in the exact right place and meet the exact right person but if you're not prepared then it's for nothing. Imagine meeting a Hollywood executive looking for his/her next big movie option, and runs into you. You don't have a screenplay written, you've just got a kind of half-formed idea. Even though you're in the right place, things probably aren't going to work out for you because you're not prepared.

Luck comes to people who work hard and put themselves into positions to luck out. You're never going to just get lucky and land a new job in a different field by sitting at home and never learning those skills you need. You're never going to just happen to sell the next Harry Potter sitting at home never writing.

You have to put in the time and effort for all the pieces to fall into place.

Source: Photo by Irene Dávila on Unsplash

One of the downfalls of the writing life (and a lot of office jobs) is the amount of time spent sitting on a computer typing. Back and hip pain is common, and carpel tunnel is a concern for many writers.

I've compiled a few of my favorite stretching videos so you can keep flexible.  So, in the words of Jeremy Renner...

Hands, and wrists:

 

Shoulders:

 

Hips:

 

Lower Back:

 

Those are just a few of my favorite stretching videos. Do you have any videos that help with stretching?

Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesWriting Life

Something that people frequently ask about is what do I in a day? I think a lot of creative people get asked about their processes and how they manage to 'find the time to do all that', at least a lot of the people I know get asked that question a whole lot. So I thought I'd give a peak behind the curtain of what a typical (if there really is such a thing) day looks like for me. Now note here, I have several advantages as far as time goes: I have no romantic partner; I have no kids; I live with two roommates to split chores with.  So with all that aside, let's get started! 

5am
On the best of days I'm up at 5am to get some writing and/or staring into space contemplating life time. I tend to be a morning person so I try to make the most of it. Realistically, I roll out of bed about 5:20 and have some time to read. 

5:45 am
This is when I stop staring into space/working and actually start getting ready for the day. I brush my teeth and my hair (with different brushes of course), wash my face and go through a whole skincare routine, put on makeup or don't, get dressed, and throw my lunch into a bag. Most of the time I've packed pretty much everything I need the night before so it's just a matter of grabbing a bag and going. 

6:00 - 6:55 am
I commute in to work on the train so I spend my time reading or listening to podcasts. If I'm on a really tight deadline, I'll write on the train but I prefer writing at home. Not having to drive makes my life so much better, public transit is amazing y'all. 

7:00 - 11:00 am
Day job! 

11:00 am - 12:00 pm
I usually take lunch around this time. Generally, I go for a walk or workout during this time and eat at my desk (bad, I know!)

12:00 - 3:45 pm
Day job! 

4:00-5:00 pm
Commuting back home on the train. Usually I listen to podcasts more often in the afternoon. 

5:00 - 6:00 pm
Dinner! I walk in the door hungry most days so I pretty much walk in the door, change into my pjs, and start dinner. I tend to batch cook on Sunday so cooking consists of heating up leftovers which is awesome. I also watch some Netflix or Youtube while I'm eating (bad again, I know!) Sometimes I'll go play PokemonGo with my roommates when I get home too. We're awesome at the raid battles. (Go Team Instinct!)

6:00 - 8:00 pm
This is when I try to get the bulk of my writing or editing done. If I'm working on two projects, I'll split them to work on one in the morning and one in the evening. 

8:00 - 9:00 pm
Hang out time! Most of the time this is time I'll spend with my roommates watching Netflix or playing video games. It's really helpful for my mental health to do something fun like games. I try to do this most nights but some nights it doesn't happen. This is also when I pack my lunches and get together whatever I need for work the next day. I frequently lay out my clothes and things too.  

9:00-9:30 pm
Bed time! Seriously, I really, really struggle with sleep so I go to bed early. I have a whole bedtime routine that I've talked about before and that's all because I have a hard time getting more than 3 hours of sleep a night. I go to bed early to help me get the maximum number of hours possible. Sleep is important y'all.

Of course, this isn't every day and sometimes I get more done than other days, but I try to keep a consistent bedtime and get-up time even on the weekends and holidays. Sleep is my main struggle and this schedule has helped me get a handle on it. So there you have it, a day in the life. On a good day, I can clock in between 4000-5000 words on a project. On a bad day, it's a big 'ol goose egg word count. I am still tweaking what works and doesn't work for me, like writing on the train, it works in the morning but if I try in the afternoon I have a tendency to get motion sick and be out the rest of the day. Big lesson: Experiment with what works for you and learn about your process. 
 

Source: Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash
Posted
AuthorAndrea Judy
CategoriesWriting Life