Writer, Interrupted

content warning: mentions of self-medication, psychiatric disability.

When Evolution Isn’t Always a Straight Line

I have a gap in my resume. It makes writing bios difficult, trying to cover a gap that yawns across the summer of 2006 to a January day in 2014. I didn’t go on a backpacking trip to Europe or volunteer with the peace corps or pursue personal enrichment. Well. I kinda did, but not in the fun drive a bus across the country sort of way.

I was institutionalized.

Not the whole time, I don’t mean that. But I had been stressed for a long time. I worked 70 hours a week for a small business that tried to become a home decor trend by mounting butterflies in pretty frames to hang on the wall. I came home and wrote short story after short story in the struggle to become a writer along with my friends, who were on their way to becoming published writers, award winners, and guests of honor at book events all over the globe. I had to catch up. I had to improve in all areas, reach my potential, be perfect…and it didn’t work.

I was living with what I now know is a mood disorder and C-PTSD from a childhood I still don’t really talk about. I was trying to do it all in the midst of traumatic recall, panic attacks that broke like thunderstorms at random hours of the day, and an internal critic who took delight in destroying everything I tried to like about myself. I starved myself, too afraid to eat…but I could drink just fine, and I did that. Every day. It didn’t stop the panic. It didn’t stop the shame. And it didn’t stop me from losing one job after another.

I wasn’t completely unaware of what was happening to me. I tried to get help, and I wound up in the hospital for a little while…and then out, and then back in. I spent the money I had on treatments that medicine usually looks down on, like reiki and acupuncture, because chiding myself over distorted thinking wasn’t making the panic go away. (I still see a woman who combines talk therapy and bodywork once every few months.) The fight was hard. It took a long time. It took the luck of the draw getting the right doctor, who patiently stayed next to me and helped with therapy, real talk, and an unshakable belief that I could make it through.

But after years of group therapy, yoga classes, and restrictive diets, it happened. Three days after trying a brand new drug in the darkest part of winter, I literally woke up one morning and said, “I want to write something.”

That January day quietly became the day everything changed. But I was still afraid of writing. Well, actually I was afraid of critique, I was afraid of rejection, I was afraid of acceptance. But my hands itched for a keyboard and an idea to explore, and I told my best person in the world, my Secret Texas Boyfriend what was happening. And he said, “write a fic.”

So I did. And fanfiction was exactly what I needed to do. It was low pressure, but still had room for my desire to write to the best of my ability. The first story was a little bit experimental in structure, and my skills were rusty, but it felt good. It felt right.

So I tried to write an historical romance, and i didn’t get very far with that, but I did meet Kim, who was writing A Convenient Engagement at the time. We made a pact to keep going with writing and our goals. But I was still feeling not-ready to write commercial fiction, so I went back to tumblr and Ao3. I wrote a fanfic with no idea where it was going, no idea how to end it, and total freedom to be as weird as I wanted.

Then the unexpected: It took off. I had hundreds (and then thousands) of readers, daily enthusiastic feedback, interesting questions, and it was exactly what I needed at the time. So I wrote another. And another. And then I developed an idea that quickly discarded the cloak of fanfiction and demanded worldbuilding, original character development, and a structured struggle against my protagonist’s past and his avocation. It needed a mystery plot. And it really needed a romance.

So I wrote Witchmark, and became a novelist. Don’t get me wrong though, that first draft needed a ton of work. But I did it. I revised it five times. I wrote more fic to keep my hand in, and I wrote a contemporary romance to keep me from running around in panicked circles while I was on query with agents. But Witchmark hit, getting representation and a deal soon after. I will hold it in my hands come the summer of 2018, twelve years after I had put stories away, after I had given up writing as too difficult, after I had decided I was too fragile.

I still have panic attacks. I still have bad days. But I can now and forever tell my internal critic to take a hike, because it can never take away what I’ve achieved.

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