Tag Archives: mental-health

Grave Touched: A Labor of Love by Erin Zarro

Erin Zarro author photoHello again! Today we have a guest post by Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro, who is celebrating the release of her second novel, Grave Touched.

Full disclosure: I am the chief editor at Turtleduck Press, so I saw a version of this book early on and…well, I’ll let Erin tell it:

When I first conceived the idea of writing this book, I was over the moon. I’m a huge fan (and believer) of ghosts, and the idea of ghosts possessing people intrigued me. I started writing it before book 1, Fey Touched, was published. But then I had a problem with my left eye (severe excruciating pain that required taking a break from writing) and things kind of went off the rails.

When I finally got back to writing, I was able to make my next deadline. I’d worried about that, because I’d blown my first deadline because of my eye. The last thing I wanted to do was blow another deadline and create yet another hole in our publishing schedule. They were wonderful and understanding, but I still felt like a failure.

About two weeks after sending it to my editor, Siri, I got an email from her. It was not good news. She felt that the book wasn’t ready to be published. She gave me a extensive list of things that weren’t working. Naturally, I’d felt that I’d nailed it — at first. But then as I thought about her issues, it dawned on me. This was not my best work. She was absolutely right. Somehow, in the midst of my desire to make my deadline and having eye pain, I screwed up badly. And of course I wondered then if I was a crappy writer. Maybe Fey Touched was a fluke, and I suck. Maybe I went back to writing too soon, and was a bit delusional as to my abilities. Maybe the pain was screwing with my head. Maybe the book wasn’t working and it would never work. Maybe it needed to be trunked.

Cover of Fey Touched by Erin ZarroOn and on and on. I suffer from clinical depression, so this just added on to the refrain of “you suck, your writing sucks, you’re never going to sell anything” and so forth. This was a dark time for me. I’ve lost my way before — ironically just before I started writing Fey Touched. I’d rewritten a different novel 4 times in order to make it acceptable to an agent. Well, I was rewriting the love and magic right out of it. I took the advice of several writer friends and set it aside, resolving to write something purely for fun and for myself. That book was Fey Touched.

So I’d accomplished that but I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do it again. I agreed to the rewrite and the tentative deadline, which gave me about a year to work on it, so I felt fairly confident that I’d be able to make it. If I could get my muse on board.

She wasn’t, not at first. She saw this as an unnecessary rewrite and balked at doing anything. It’s funny because I really did want to do the rewrite. But maybe someplace in my subconscious I felt like I was beating a dead horse. It took awhile to get into the flow, but once I got started, I was able to keep progressing.

This entire process took three years. Sometimes I worried about wasting my time. But now, after completing it and publishing it, I’m happy to say that everything I went through with this book was so worth it. I learned that one misstep does not make me a failure as a writer. I learned that I could produce (and produce salable fiction) with excruciating eye pain. I learned to follow my instincts and my muse. But most of all, I learned strength. It would have so easy to give up. To say, hey, it’s just not working, I need to do something else. But I persisted, because the book needed to be written. My idea needed to be expanded upon and explored. My characters needed this growth. And I, too, grew as a writer.

I’m glad that Siri rejected the first incarnation. Sounds weird, but it’s true. Had she not rejected it, I might have published it anyway and that would have been detrimental to my career. It was not ready, and I know that. Because of this, I kept believing in myself and in the book, so much that I couldn’t let it die.

With writing, a lot of people don’t understand the amount of work that goes into a novel, both writing and publishing. Any novel could take months to years to complete. And every writer is different. When you suffer from chronic pain, every day you have to refigure your goals and productivity. I am, by nature, very stubborn and very driven, so I didn’t let it stop me. But it was tough. Some days I didn’t know how I’d come home from work and work on the book. Editing and revising was a study in patience. And it’s harder with a hurting eye. But I didn’t have the option of quitting. I’m a writer, and I write. Nothing else matters.

So, it can be done. Blood, sweat, tears, and persistence will win every time. Hopefully I’ve inspired some of you to try to meet your goals even through adversity. It’s an amazing feeling to have done the very thing you didn’t believe you could do. Try it.

The final incarnation of Grave Touched that’s published is a love song to my muse, a crazy journey, and a story I’ve wanted to tell for three years. I am truly proud of it, and proud that I’d nailed it this time. And thankful that I’m still doing my thing, regardless of anything else.

I am a writer. Nothing more, nothing less.

Grave Touched by Erin ZarroSiri here. I’m so proud of Erin for fighting through all those self-doubts. (Heck, I posted just last month about my own struggles with imposter syndrome.) The new version of Grave Touched is a whole lot better, and I hope you’ll check it out.

Grave Touched is available as a Kindle ebook here, and a print version is coming soon. If you’d rather start with Fey Touched (the first in the series) the ebook version of that is currently on sale for 99 cents.

Happy reading!

How to Beat the Winter Blues

Post-holiday blues, amirite? Vacation is over, spring is months away, and it’s far enough into the new year to realize that maybe you’re not going to nail all your resolutions. A popular myth holds that a Monday in January (no consensus as to which one) is the most depressing day of the year. So…what to do about it?

Actually, for me the worst time is late February or early March — still very much winter here in Toronto. I usually write a post on the late-winter blues. This year I’m writing early, in the hopes that by listing some of the strategies that are working now, I — and you — will be better armed to face the rest of the winter.

(If you’re looking for an update on the writing situation, it’s at the bottom of the post.)

Park in winter

The Obvious

Just to get the obvious tips out of the way, here are the 3 most common recommendations for fighting SAD:

  • take vitamin D
  • use full-spectrum lighting
  • stay active doing something you love

The Key

Here’s what I’m focusing on this year: embrace winter. Sounds simple, but for a solar-powered, cold-blooded heat-seeker like me, it takes practice. And it’s applicable to all sorts of areas…

Hibernation

Instead of hunkering down in your home and cursing the cold, what about focusing on the enjoyable parts of staying indoors? There’s no garden calling your name, no patio, no summer festivals, no rambling through farmers’ markets or down streets of little shops. You’re free to make the most of indoor activities, whether at home or otherwise. So why not let yourself enjoy TV binges, cooking or baking, reading, crafting, drinking copious amounts of hot liquids, and so on? (Or, if you’re ambitious, go to the movies, an art gallery, the library…) Soon enough you’ll be busy outside again.

Nesting

If you’re going to hibernate, though, you need a good place to do it. Now is the time to make your living room, bedroom, or home office a truly cozy place to hang out. For example, maybe you have a disaster area organizing project to tackle (um, that would be me!), to reclaim a space that hasn’t been serving a good purpose.

Or maybe you could let your inner decorator out to play. This winter, my partner and I had a lot of fun decorating the house for Christmas. It was our third Christmas since becoming homeowners, but last year we were away, and the year before we were still recovering from having gotten married! So this was the first year we had the time and energy to devote to dressing up the place.

Our efforts made the living room in particular feel SO cozy and welcoming, we just wanted to hang out there all the time. (New problem: now we don’t want to take down the Christmas decor! Sadly, most of it can’t pass for “winter seasonal”…though we will leave the bowl of pine cones, the pillar candles, and maybe the fake garland on the mantelpiece.)

Outdoor fun

“Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver” (“My country is not a country, it is winter”) — Gilles Vigneault, Québécois poet and singer-songwriter

Of course, you can’t stay indoors all the time. That’s where winter sports come in. I won’t linger on this one because you get the idea. Personally, I don’t downhill ski, snowboard, or skate, but I do love cross-country skiing and snowshoeing when I can. When that fails, there’s always going for a walk. As long as the weather is not truly crappy, it still feels good.

On that note, I’m practising gratitude. Sure, it’s winter, but the weather isn’t always terrible. When it snows, or when it’s cold but sunny, I try and take a moment to stop and enjoy it. If I have to shovel or spread salt, I make a point of being thankful that I’m taking care of (a) my house, and (b) the neighbourhood. Yes, it does take practice, but it really does help.

Winter fashion

Quick preamble: In the last few years, I’ve developed an interest in clothes that I never really had before. I was (and am) a geek who lives very much in my head. But I never knew how to dress in a way that would make me happy. Now I’m finally figuring it out (with fits and starts, of course), and, surprise, it’s actually fun! (Quick plug for Missus Smarty Pants here. And no, I’m not an affiliate or anything, just a happy customer.)

Anyway…I’m enjoying wearing things that only work in cold/cooler weather. Right now that includes the prettiest sweaters I can find, plus fleece-lined footless tights (best thing ever, I swear). When it’s a bit warmer I wear opaque nylons and riding boots. I’ve got skirts and dresses in heavier, winter fabrics and colours, and (mostly costume) jewellery to go with them. I can’t wear this stuff in summer, so I’m trying to remember to enjoy it now…and mix it up so I don’t get bored.

Caveat: I do not sacrifice warmth for style. If it’s more than a little below freezing, I’m ditching my cute pea jacket for my parka, my cute wool hat and gloves for a toque and puffy mittens, my riding boots for lined and grippy winter boots. I’ll be stylish when I get to my destination and shed layers, but until then, I’ll be snug and not miserably cold.

Anticipation

If all of the above fails, look ahead. Don’t think too hard about spring yet, that’s too far away. A better idea is to plan something special to look forward to — mid-February is a good time. No, I’m not talking about V-Day necessarily. Throw a party. Plan a girls’ night out, or a weekend away if you can swing it. Think up a special, out-of-the-ordinary outing, with someone else or on your own. It doesn’t have to be fancy or cost much (or anything at all, if you’re resourceful) — it just has to be something to draw you onward, through the cold and the dark towards the promise of spring.

Writing

As promised, here’s what’s going on with writing: nothing. Well, nothing on the surface, anyway. I’m reading more than usual, taking in “story” through movies and TV, tentatively poking through some books on writing. Went on a couple of Pinterest sprees, some of which were writing-related.

I still have no urge to actually write fiction…but then, it is winter. Gardens need time to rest; animals hibernate; trees look like they’re dead, until suddenly they’re not.

I’m trying to remember these things, and hope.

Your turn! What do you do to get through winter?

Living in the Moment

This past weekend, I was at a folk dance camp. Here’s a taste…

Imagine this:

You are in a community hall. On the stage, a band is playing traditional folk music, led by a fiddler. In the hall, people are dancing until the wooden floor bounces — the whole room moving in unison.

You’re all grinning like fools and sweating and your eyes sparkle with sheer joy and you are alive, right there in the moment and nowhere else.

(Read the rest here.)

What I’m describing is something called flow. With flow, you are wholly present and aware. You’re not thinking about anything but what you’re doing. You are doing it fairly well, and you’re enjoying doing it well.

If you find flow while doing something like dance, you are really inhabiting your body and your surroundings. Flow can also arise out of an intellectual exercise like writing, in which case your body and surroundings might tend to disappear as you dive deeper into the page. Either way, you lose track of time and you’re living completely in the moment.

Some other places where I’ve found flow include:

  • outdoor adventure sports — hiking, canoeing, kayaking
  • exercise — ice skating, rock climbing, swimming, yoga
  • physical chores around the house — gardening, building furniture
  • anytime when I’m outside of my routine, maybe walking somewhere I don’t usually go, and not too busy rushing to pay attention to where I am at that moment
  • partaking in the arts — reading, singing or playing music, attending a really good concert
  • travel

I find flow to be essential to my mental health. It can also make time seem longer — so if your weekends feel too short, maybe try chiselling out some time for flow and see what happens!

Your turn! Where do you find flow?

 

Winter Elegy

My father passed away eleven years ago this week, at the tail end of an unusually frigid winter much like the one we’ve just had.

I don’t know which season was his favourite, but he relished each of them. He didn’t fear or curse the cold — he took us cross-country skiing and walking in the snow whenever he could, until that last winter that he spent sick, in and out of hospital. We drove on icy roads and trudged in winter gear from the parking lot to visit him.

I wasn’t thinking about it then, but I suspect that’s when I began to hate winter.

For a long time he didn’t know it would be his last, only that he was very sick…and he was never sick. But he knew the possibility was there. He was not afraid.

When I was young, I used to love playing in the snow. Building forts, sledding, pretending I was an Arctic explorer or a princess in an ice castle (the budding writer at work). Later I tried skating and snowshoeing. Cross-country skiing was always my favourite, the clean sound of the skis in the snow, the glorious sensation of flying, the sleeping trees and pure white all around. I’ve done some of those things since he died, but nowadays I mostly just trudge.

On the day of the funeral, the winter finally broke, with a sky of clear Alberta blue, meltwater running in the cemetery. I like to think it broke for him, but then he didn’t mind the snow. Maybe it broke for us.

Even now, at this time of year I get melancholy. I still like a clean snowfall, crunchy snow and a clear winter sky, but as the season wears on, it wears at me too. I wait out the last cold days, just enduring the late-winter storms. Waiting for March to pass and spring to arrive, and life to come again.

 

Late Winter Blues

Right about this time of year, I always start to feel really ground down by winter. Christmas holidays are a distant memory, the February long weekend (Family Day in most of Canada) is over, and the Easter long weekend isn’t for another month or two. Post-holiday optimism and resolve have been dulled by the pressures of reality. The cold grey weather seems like it’ll never end, and I’m more than ready for some warmth and sunshine.

And yes, I’m taking Vitamin D and I’ve tried full-spectrum lights in the past. Last year I even contrived to run away to a hot climate for three months, but that’s not an option this year.

(Funny thing is, when I was younger I thought snowbirds — in Canuck-speak, that’s retirees who head south for the winter — were wimps. Now I totally get the appeal! Alas, I’m a looong way from being able to do that regularly, even if I did swing it once.)

Here’s something I wrote almost exactly two years ago: Surviving the End of Winter. Unfortunately, those strategies aren’t working so well this time. (Even the copious amounts of chocolate.) Mental health is a moving target, I swear.

So I’m turning the platform over to you. How do you cope with the late-winter blues?

#ROW80 Update

Despite the above, I’ve already hit 2.25 hours of novel revision this week — thanks in part to the aforementioned long weekend, and in part to having to prep pages for my critique group. Only another 1.25 hours to go! Jury’s still out on whether I’m actually making progress or stalled, though. Maybe the rest of the week will see things start to move along.

 

Cruel Self-Talk and ROW80 Check-In

Just a quick post today, because I’m going to send you over to a post I wrote yesterday at Turtleduck Press. It’s about New Year’s resolutions, changing goals, and how we talk to ourselves.

Here’s a snippet:

I’m doing a writing challenge that involves twice-weekly check-ins on my blog. If you read those posts, you might notice a lot of what sound like rationalizations or excuses. I’m busy with Real Life. I’m not writing a lot but it’s quality over quantity. Renovations also relate to my goal of “making space”.

But all of that is deliberate.

You see, I tend to be very hard on myself. There’s a little voice in my head that says I’m not working hard enough, I should be doing more, that story I’m working on sucks, look at how much those people on Twitter are writing, I only work 40 hours a week so there’s no reason I can’t write 10 hours a week, what the hell am I doing on the Internet, etc., etc. (And that’s just the parts that relate to writing.)

To be honest, I’ve struggled for a long time with this voice. It seeps into all aspects of life. It can find so many ways to say “You suck. You’re not good enough — you’re not like those other people — and you never will be.” And that’s not motivating; it’s paralyzing.

Even now as I type, I don’t want to write too much about it because I’m afraid to give it free rein, to let it gain a toehold in my mind.

Check out the rest of my post to find out how I’m fighting back. And please do leave a comment — I’d love to hear how you fight back, too.

ROW80 stats: only half an hour so far this week, as renovations are still eating my life. But I have high hopes for getting more words down on Thursday night and Saturday.

 

Making Space for Writing: ROW80 Goals

Last year, I was very busy with Life — not in a bad way, but it meant I didn’t do a whole lot of writing. This year, Life has settled down (knock wood). So I’m taking a step back, refocusing and recommitting to what it is I really want to do with myself. Which is write.

Specifically, I want to make more space for my writing. I hear myself constantly complaining about how busy I am. My house is cluttered so there’s no room to think. The Internet is an ever-present demon. And the writing I am getting done feels like it has stagnated because I’m not sinking into it as deeply as I could be.

So I am declaring this the Year of Priorities, AKA Project: Making Space.

It’s a multi-pronged problem, so I’ll be making a multi-pronged attack.

ROW80

First step: ROW80 (A Round of Words in 80 Days). This is a writing challenge where, unlike NaNoWriMo, each participant declares his or her own goal. It runs for 80 days, then takes a break and starts again. That means it’s not a mad coffee-fueled dash like NaNo. As I understand it, you’re supposed to take ROW80 a little slower, integrate your goal into your normal life, and work towards building habits.

My ROW80 goal: To spend 5 hours a week writing and/or editing.

(A week is counted as Monday to Sunday. Related tasks such as researching, brainstorming, and outlining may or may not count, or I may count them as half time, or something.)

I’m tempted to talk about gradually raising the goal, or about how much I hope to accomplish by the end of the 80 days, but I won’t. I have a long history of setting unrealistic goals, or “product” goals that don’t take into account the length of the process, and then beating myself up when I miss them. So this time I’m starting simple.

My current projects are:

  • Writing, editing, and posting a serial story for Turtleduck Press (I’m just finishing up Part 4 of a planned 5)
  • Editing a novel (I’m about 1/3 of the way through an intensively edited second draft)

But again, I’m only setting “process” goals for now.

I will say, though, that I intend to do those 5 hours a week in bigger chunks. In the past I’ve sometimes written in sprints of 10 or 15 minutes, which is great as far as it goes, but it’s not conducive to sinking deeper into the story. So I’m going to aim for an hour at a time, but again, that’s not an official part of the goal.

One of the Life things I’m doing is working on Turtleduck Press. As a member, part of my duties involves writing short stories, which will count towards my goal. Another part of my duties is editing other members’ novels, which will not count — I like doing it, but it doesn’t get my own writing out there any faster. Writing blog posts also will not count — only fiction.

Wednesday Check-In

I’ve done 2 hours so far this week — an hour each of writing and editing. It might have been more, but I had to skip Monday because of wrist problems. Still, I’m on track to hit 5 hours.

Other #ROW80 Members

I’m doing #ROW80 with a couple of fellow Turtleduck Press authors:

Erin Kendall

Kit Campbell

You can see the rest of the ROW80 participants here.

Go show them some love!

In future posts I’ll be talking more about my 2013 (because I did accomplish a fair bit, even if it wasn’t writing, and I’d like to celebrate that) and my plans and reasons for refocusing in 2014. In the meantime…

Your turn! Are you feeling too busy? What are your priorities for 2014?