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Reflections

Editing and Burnout

Let’s talk about editing for a minute.

When I was in high school, I hated the editing process. I wrote everything in one draft and submitted it. And guess what? I faced no consequences. I always got A’s on my papers and projects. Even in one of my hardest classes (which I never scored higher than 65 on a test) I would get 100’s on my papers. 

College was different though. When I got to my first day of WRI101, taught by one of my favorite professors to date, we spent days talking about the revision process. We had three drafts of every paper, which in different stages were edited by different people, and ultimately got our letter grade after the third draft. 

At first, I hated this process. I didn’t like rereading my work, let alone did I like classmates reading my work and seeing all of my mistakes and imperfections. It would keep me up at night. 

Until, we read “Shitty First Drafts” by Anne Lamont. This passage from her book Bird by Bird changed my editing life. If you’re interested, you can read it here. I hope it changes your life too.

I am a perfectionist when it comes to my writing, and to top it all off I constantly radiate anxiety – so editing was a no go for a long time. I would write something once and that would be it. I didn’t want to be wrong.

The way that Lamont frames this idea of editing is just enough assertion for me to finally get it. The first draft is shit. The first draft is always shit. Lamont writes that “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled.” I knew this, for writing is taking pieces of yourself away. Writing is constant suffering. But, to hear it from someone else? From an accomplished author? And to read this in my FIRST college writing class? That’s what I needed. I finally believed in the power of editing. 

Sophomore year comes around, specifically we’ll call it November 2020. I’ve talked about this before, but in that month I wrote more than I’ve probably ever done before in my life. A whole 64,000 words (not including planning, editing, or anything like that). 14,000 to my play Blue Ends and 50,000 towards finishing my untitled novel. 

Blue Ends has become my challenge. After I wrote the first draft, I proceeded to edit it twice. Before the end of the year, I had a third draft. I had never been so proud of myself in my life.

I didn’t look at the play for a month. I didn’t look at it until I had a meeting with my mentor Brett. I worked in a directed study with him, and we are continuing to do so for the next two years that I am at school. It was intense, working with him on this project. He pushed me to write and edit more than I’ve ever done before. He got me in contact with some incredible individuals in the Boston theatre scene, and he even had me hold a table read of my play. Before that, however, I took the liberty of not taking his advice and practically rewrote my play. I hadn’t looked at it in months at this point, and it was March when I had the table read. 

I hated my play. I wanted nothing to do with the original contents. I rewrote the whole play in a week, and edited it once as well. After the table read, I edited, and even after Brett and his girlfriend read it, I edited it again.

So why am I still so unhappy with how it turned out? How am I so unhappy even though when I first wrote Blue Ends I was so proud?

No one ever really talks about editing burnout. At least, the people I follow on social media and talk too in person – no one talks about how much this sucks.

I haven’t opened Blue Ends since the end of April. I cannot bring myself to open it because I think I’ll tear the whole thing apart again and start over. I was so happy with it months ago, and now I want almost nothing to do with it. I edited my heart out for months and months, built up these characters in my mind, and now I can’t bring myself to look at it.

Burnout sucks. It’s something I’m trying to pull myself out of now. I was told I need to read a play a day for six weeks before I could open the document again. Before I could write another play. And I feel bad, but I’ve been pushing off starting to read those plays as well.

The best advice I’ve been able to gather in this situation is being able to give yourself a break. Brett told me this, and for some reason I can’t listen to myself so I took his words to heart. I hope you can take my words to heart – you are allowed to give yourself a break. If you go hard for too long, you will hate what you’re working on, no matter what. In my personal experience, I love all of the characters I work with, but now I want to rip them to shreds.

Self-care is allowed. Breaks are allowed. If you can’t bring yourself to write, try and hone that creativity elsewhere in your life. Getting through the rough patch is hard, but necessary.

If anything, I believe in you. You got this.

Categories
Reflections

Accountability

Accountability: this is something that I have a problem with. I never seem to be able to hold myself to the standards that I set. Whether this be for my daily life or for my writing (we’re going to focus on the writing aspect of this today).

My freshman year of college, I told myself that I was going to write a book by the end of the year. I set a date for myself to publish on: December 19, 2019. I told everyone that I was going to self publish my book that day.

It’s June, 2020. If you can’t tell, I didn’t publish that book. So, what went wrong?

Well, I had a set schedule. I gave myself four months to write the first draft of the piece. April was going to be for my personal edits, the first half of May was rewriting the first draft. The second half of May was (you guessed it) editing again. June and July were set aside for test readers, and the rest of the year was not entirely planned, but I wanted to have my manuscript done by the end of October. 

The months came and went, and I had done nothing. My problem, consistently, is motivation.

I consider myself to have a lot of creativity, and that I am constantly flowing with new ideas. My first google drive I ever made has almost 100 folders and subfolders in it. I have vivid dreams that often result in becoming part of a new story I want to tell. Motivation is the problem here because once I have the main idea, it is near impossible for me to get myself to work on anything.

I decided that I just needed to work on things whenever I did have the motivation. After all, what was the point of forcing myself to work on something that I wouldn’t end up being proud of?

November 2019 happened. I wrote over 67,000 words that month. I wrote the entirety of my play Blue Ends and edited it twice. I also wrote the majority of my unnamed Sci-fi novel (17 chapters if I remember correctly).

Why did that suddenly happen? Because it was for a class assignment. My Fiction Writing Workshop class (ENG308, respectively) participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – November). I had never finished a piece of writing that quickly in my entire life. Blue Ends was written in a matter of three days – and edited within the first week. 

I held myself accountable because someone else was expecting me to do my work. Having my professor use this assignment to be the majority of my final grade made me write. Thanks, Tricia, cause without you I probably wouldn’t have started working on the skills that I’m developing now. 

How do I hold myself accountable now?

As of this week, I have started using a new planner! It helps me plan out my month, week, and daily schedule. Plus, it’s also super cute! These pages are designed to help you achieve your monthly goals. 

Planner by Rachel Hollis

Another way I have started to try and hold myself accountable is through writing down what I want to get done as much as possible. I have my quick ideas written down on my whiteboard on my desk – so whenever I’m at my computer, I have to look at it. At work, I’ll write down sentences or phrases I think of that I want to put into a story on a piece of receipt paper. I have a list of ideas scrawled in almost every notebook in my bedroom. 

I tell my friends about what I’m working on. Maybe not in detail, but they always check in on me to make sure that I’m A) doing well, and B) bounce ideas off of one another. A lot of my close friends also enjoy the arts, so it’s nice to be able to have this option to help my accountability. 

Lastly, though it may seem counter productive: I give myself a break. One thing I learned in the past year is that you shouldn’t be holding yourself to such high standards all the time. Everyone needs a break. I take time each week to self-care and self-soothe myself to ensure my mentality is the best that it can be. 

Holding myself accountable is hard, but I’ve found some ways to try and help myself. Let me know how you hold yourself accountable in the comments below!

Categories
Reflections

I Don’t Sound Like a Whiny Bitch

January, 2020:

I have no idea how to express the emotions that I have inside of my head.

            This essay has been written now a total of four times. Each time, I have attempted to write the same story of self-discovery and finding the word that describes me. Each time I delete the essay (well, not delete. But I delete it from my mind) and open up a new, blank document. I try to find the words to describe how I’m feeling again. As if the new, empty white landscape will somehow stir the correct word out of the hibernation happening in my brain. Each time, I’m shocked it doesn’t work.

            In the first attempt at writing this essay, I wrote about the label I put on myself in the first sentence. I use this word as an act of defiance of my fingers. They don’t want to type the word out. They want to type anything but that word. I wrote it in order to see the word written out in front of me and know that it describes me, but yet I am still so scared to say it aloud. I am scared to say it to the wrong group of people. I am scared that I will have to change my mind.

            I think that’s the worst part about putting this down in words. That I’ll be wrong and I’ll have to change my mind, yet again. The warring sides of my brain violently tear each other apart as I try to decide whether I want this label. The thought of writing it down in words is the worst part, I think. Writing it down on paper makes it permanent.

            Speaking it out into the world is different. When I speak them to myself alone in my room, they dissipate into the air as if they were never there are all. The hit the walls around me and reflect back on myself like a gleaming spotlight. I can be proud of knowing who I am in my room. I can walk up to the microphone and say with the prestige and poise of the Queen of England. In reality, my hairbrush suffices as a microphone and my crowd of applauding audience members is just my collection of Funko Pop figures.

            When I said it to the small group of people that know – not at the same time, of course – it was different too. Wrapped in the confined space of their endless support and appreciation. As the words fall out of my unprepared mind and into the shared space, their eyes light up with joy as I finally tell them one of the many secret aspects of my confined mind.

***

April, 2020:

I stopped scrolling. It’s May now. I am not afraid of the words anymore. I have come out to not only my family, but myself.

            There are a lot of things to unpack. Not only in this first section, but rather throughout the whole essay. I was in an insecure spot in my life in these days leading up to writing this piece. Thinking back to when my fingers flew over the keyboard, I think I was trying to reason with myself in this piece.

            I learned a lot after this. A now good friend taught me how to become comfortable with myself. I want to thank her for all of the support and love she’s given me after finally coming out.

            I know now that my feelings are valid, and I am not alone. I don’t need everyone to know and accept it. All it matters is how I’m feeling now. That’s what this text should represent.

***

I told my father first before anyone else. Before I even admitted it to myself, actually. Lying on the couch, listening to him make a comment about how one day he’ll be able to walk me down the aisle to my husband.

            “I don’t like guys, dad.”

            “Really? Not even a little bit?” He asked me with his full attention taken away from the television.

            “Not really.” I expected him to tell me that it was a phase, that it wasn’t right, or that he didn’t understand why I wouldn’t like guys. I had been raised that way. Actually, conditioned would be a better word for it.

            To my surprise, he only said “You can love who you want to love. As long as you aren’t lonely.”

            “I wouldn’t mind being alone. I’ll just have cats for the rest of my life,” I replied with a chuckle.

            He didn’t laugh but smiled wearily at me “That’s what you say now. But it sucks to be alone.”

I was left looking at him, having a newfound understanding of my father. The man who called himself a ‘Florida Cracker’ really did understand me. He wanted me to be happy. All of the offensive jokes he makes or the brutal slurs he yells while driving may start to define his surface, but deep down he cared. He always had.

As I smiled at him, my father, lovingly said as a Subaru commercial came on the tv “Do we have to get rid of the jeep and get you one of those now? Subaru’s are lesbian cars, you know.”

***

I had, and continue to be, worried about labeling myself. What if I changed my mind again? I thought at first that I just wasn’t attracted to anyone and that I never would be. I was okay with the idea of being alone because I thought that’s what my label wanted me to be, which is entirely not true. I focused myself on doing research to find out that the word didn’t mean ‘alone forever’ or ‘crazy cat lady for life.’ It just meant that I felt the way that I did when it came to relationships, and that I could still be loved and feel love.

***

            The first, and only, boy I dated – we’ll call him Al. We had been friends all of middle school. I never thought before him that I would ever have that moment where someone would have a crush on me. At the end of eighth grade, he texted me saying that if I didn’t feel the same way that he did, he wasn’t going to be upset. He still wanted to be friends with me. He liked me and wanted me to be his girlfriend.

            My fingers went in circles around the keyboard buttons of my iPod touch. I eventually came up with the response: “My parents won’t let me date until high school.”

            In ninth grade, I thought that he had forgotten about that comment. I didn’t feel “butterflies” in my stomach, or my thoughts always revolving around the idea of being with him. I never wrote my name down repeatedly in my notebook with his last name plastered next to it. Besides, Johnson just didn’t roll off the tongue quite right.

            In the middle of the summer leading up to our sophomore year, he texted me again. It was practically the same message. He wanted to be with me.

            It took me a long time to type out the simple message. I wanted him to know that I cared about him and that I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I had worked so hard on it, I wanted it to sound like I was saying the words. I wanted it to come from the heart. I told him I thought that I liked him too.

***

            It’s easy to look back at the time in my life and understand that this wasn’t just me wanting to please everyone. Being able to look at this situation four years after the fact makes it so easy for me to point out every single thing I did wrong in that moment. I confused what friendship and a crush were. Even then, I find that to feel like an excuse because I’m giving a reason as to why I wanted to please him. I honestly think that I did it because I truly thought I liked him, and because it was drilled into my head starting at a young age to please a man.

            He made me happy. He made me feel appreciated. We had the same sense of humor and we both got along with each other’s friends. Al volunteered to build care packages for soldiers overseas. His family helped out with the local elections. He lived on a farm, and he took care of horses. He never said a negative thing about me or my friends. Every step of the way in our friendship, and relationship, he was kind, considerate, and thoughtful.

            I learned a lot about what a crush meant to me in that relationship. I knew that it had to have similar feelings as being in a friendship. You had to have similar interests to them, be able to spend time together consistently and be able to respect one another. Romantically, I still question what my personal definition of a crush is. I know that you have to be attracted to the person in some sense and that you want to be willing to learn and grow. That sounds cliché, but it’s the truth.

***

            Sometimes I wish I had that stereotypical coming-of-age movie moment, where I’m sitting in my car crying because my boyfriend cheated on me with the girl that I thought was my best friend. I wish I had the moment when I realized that my real best friend was in love with me and that I loved them too. I wish I had the moment where everything felt okay in the end. I want the credits to roll and I want to have my life figured out.

            I desperately want to label myself in the hopes that having this community around me will suddenly make me feel like those end credits are rolling by. The community would give me a place to feel safe, and to be able to express myself to the fullest extent. I see people around me who consider this part of their identity and envelop themselves in its warmth. They don’t label themselves with it, they make the word become theirs within their own personal definition.

            I want it to become my own word. I don’t want it to just mean what it means generally, but rather what it means in my life, in my experiences, and in my standards. I want it to become a part of my identity. I am aching to have this sense of embracing this word and connecting myself with it at a spiritual level. To have it collide within myself and soul. There is a desire within me to pull this word close and wrap it around my fingertips and write this word out.

            I can’t do it yet. I can’t write it down. I don’t trust myself at this point to not change my mind. The fear of being wrong about my label, again, drags me deeper and deeper down into wanting to keep it out of my writing. I know that it is who I really am, but it is difficult to embrace the thought when I am covered in cactus pricklers. It’s as if there’s a piece of my brain that never wants me to make up my mind and make a concrete decision. I’ve changed my major several times, thought about changing schools, and most of all thought about changing who I am so that I can fit into the general norms surrounding me.

***

            The heteronormative lifestyle around me within my hometown suffocates me at every turn. There is no obvious representation, but rather that the prom king and queen get the most attention for the year. The theatre departments never do shows involving the communities outside of what we see as ‘normal.’ These ideals were pushed upon me beginning with the simple cartoons I watched as a child, to my parents pressuring me into calling my boy friends my boyfriends in elementary school. Just a little space in between the words caused change within my mind as well as many others who feel a similar way.

***

I have told numerous people about my confusion in writing this. I have told people that this essay has changed four times. I have told people what this is really about. What I haven’t told people is that this is the way for me to actively get these feelings out of my brain and into the light. It gives me a chance to read out what my brain really means. It gives me a chance to talk about the word that I long for and strive to avoid labeling myself with. It gives my brain a chance to breathe.

***

            Since writing this piece, I have become much more comfortable with the uncomfortable. Not only within myself, but with other areas within myself. I want to tell my past self, though it is only four months later, that she is valid. Even now, sometimes I wake up in the morning and wonder if I’m going to have to come out again. If I’m going to have to tell everyone that I was wrong, again.

Well, self, that’s okay. Past Colleen, you are a strong and brave woman. Your feelings and anxiety of the situation is valid. You can change your mind in the morning. It’s okay.