I apologize for the lateness of my post today. I am sick, the kind of sick that seeps down into your bones and makes your joints feel like glue. The kind where you sleep for 15 hours and wake up feeling like the first victim of the zombie apocalypse at that moment when your body has turned but your mind is still partly your own, and the only thing you want is for it to be over. That sick. That’s me, today, and since it’s Sunday I get to post about whatever I’m thinking about.
I’m thinking about fear. I’m thinking about mortality. And I’m thinking about what I coward I am and have always been. Last night I was working on my website, updating photos and adding new content and trying to fix my Kids Quotes page. It still isn’t fixed and I had to go to bed before I figured out what was wrong with the code that made it wonky. You can go look, and I’d appreciate any helpful suggestions. Especially if you don’t notice what’s wrong and has been driving me crazy, so I know it’s just me. That’s cool, I’m used to it. But what started me thinking was the new picture I put on the Editing page.
The picture I took was of a manuscript being edited. One of my manuscripts, actually. It was a story called “The Blue Rose” that I wrote in 9th grade under the direction of my English teacher, Mrs. Staheli. She was one of those English teachers that you either loved or hated, and I loved her. I like to think I was one of her favorites too. I wrote the first few chapters and submitted them for a creative writing assignment in her class, and she pulled me aside a few days later and told me to finish the book. “You could publish this,” she said. “I know adults who only wish they could write this well.”
I was flattered. I was inspired. I wrote hundreds more pages of that story, but I never finished it. Because deep down, I didn’t believe her. I read voraciously, consuming hundreds of books every year. That isn’t a hyperbole. I have proof, in that my two years in Junior High I read every book in that library by halfway through my 9th grade year, and begged the librarian to order more. I couldn’t be like these people, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Robin McKinley, Ursula Le Guin, Mercedes Lackey, these amazing beings whose characters were my friends, sometimes it felt like my only friends, through those difficult years. I couldn’t do that. My stories were great, for my age. I wrote really well for being 13 or 14. I wasn’t an author, I didn’t know anything worth saying and who on earth would listen to me anyway?
I’ve kept that unfinished manuscript my whole life as kind of a talisman, a relic of a time when someone believed that I could honestly do the thing I’ve wanted my whole life to do. And I scribbled all over one of the pages last night in red ink and yellow highlighter to demonstrate what hard work editing is. But I also read it. Not the whole manuscript, just a few pages. And it really is good. Not 9th grade good, it’s writing good. But I never finished it because I didn’t believe in it. I was afraid of believing in it, because I’ve always wanted to be an author so badly that the belief I could be someday was more important to me than actually trying. I didn’t want to fail at it and have that belief taken away from me.
How stupid is that? This story, this fraction of a manuscript that I’ve kept buried for years, has never seen the light of day because I was too afraid of failure. And I didn’t even know what failure meant! I want to know at what point I decided having one book rejected was failing as an author. Do you know how many manuscripts authors submit on average before they have one accepted for publication? Do you know how many times the book they sell was submitted before it was accepted and published?
Author Jim C. Himes, a fantasy author, did a survey among 247 published novelists asking them how they broke into the business and how many times they were rejected before making a sale. One novelist who responded said their first book was REJECTED NINE HUNDRED AND NINTEY TIMES before it was published. WOW. You can look at the full study here.
I was so afraid of being rejected once that I never even tried. So for me, what changed? You know if you’re reading this blog that I’ve written a young adult urban fantasy novel (You can read the Prologue here and the first chapter here) and I’m trying to get it published. Why now? Fear. Again. Once again, I’m being motivated by fear.
I’ve had a hard last three years. Really hard. Medically hard. Starting about three years ago my body would collapse and I couldn’t move for several seconds for no reason. My hands would shake and my whole body would hurt. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed for almost an hour because of pain and trembling. My muscles would tingle and weaken. I started going to doctors and getting MRIs of my hands and my brain. One afternoon I make a panicked phone call to a good friend and asked her to pick up my kids from school, because I’d been in an MRI machine for over three hours and the test was only half done.
The worst parts were all mental. I would wake up at night and not know where I was or who I was with. I could remember my husband’s name but not who he was in relation to me. Or I would wake up unable to move, completely paralyzed, and panicked, but have to force myself to relax and go back to sleep so my body would wake up with my mind. I couldn’t remember simple words. I would sometimes hallucinate at night. I thought I was going crazy.
Theories and diagnoses ranged from multiple sclerosis (degenerative and painful, no cure) to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (one surgery, some medication, and you’re good) to Systemic Scleroderma (you might have a 50% chance of a five year survival). Have you ever been truly afraid? Many of you have. Some of you have had near death experiences, either for yourself or for someone you love desperately. I spent nearly twelve months kissing my two young sons goodnight and tucking them in without knowing if I would live to see them grow up. I went to bed and tried to fight the feeling that I was going crazy. I wrote a poem once and posted it on Facebook where the last lines were, “where the enemy that stalks me / is my own injured psyche / where can I find refuge when the thing I fear’s myself?”
I did my best to hide my fear from my husband, who was already plenty worried about me, my sons who did not need that kind of stress, and from my parents and siblings, who were already praying for me and worried about me. Increasing their worry wouldn’t give them the opportunity to help more, and they all had their own problems. I still try to keep my biggest fears and pains to myself because I hate to see the ones I love hurting, and what can they do?
But after years of testing I started getting answers. The pain in my hands and joints was aggressive rheumatoid arthritis. The nighttime confusion, hallucinations, and paralysis were narcolepsy. The pain and weakness was fibromyalgia. And my immune system is shot, so I have to take a lot of medication every day to stay healthy and being sick is harder on me than it would be on most others. But I get better. None of these things have cures, but they all have treatments and none of them shorten my life span.
They do make everything harder. I have a good handle on the narcolepsy, so no more collapsing and paranoia. My fibromyalgia is under control as long as I eat well, exercise, and take the medication to help dull the pain receptors. The arthritis has slowed in its progression on my medication, but it hasn’t stopped. It’s the kind of arthritis that’s going to eventually turn my hands into claws and make them unusable. And there again is that fear.
In about 10 years I won’t be able to type anymore. Or play guitar, which I’ve done since I was 13 and I’ve taught lessons for the last four years. No more teaching, because I won’t be able to write on the board or help the preschoolers write their names. And no more writing.
So now I have a new fear. I’ve always put off writing and trying to get published because I was afraid of rejection. Now I don’t have the time to be afraid of that anymore. And medical science is doing a ton of research into arthritis and making strides every year, so by the time it becomes an issue the treatments will be better and this will likely never be a concern for me. But instead of ignoring it or hoping, this time I’m making my fear work for me.
I’m writing, because I choose to believe that I have to do it now or I won’t have the chance later. I’m trying to get published because it is what I want, what I have always wanted, with more passion and belief than almost anything else. I spent three years having no idea how much time I had left, or whether it would be my physical body or my mind that gave first. A publisher’s rejection letter will sting, but it won’t cripple me. Not anymore.
What are you afraid of? What is holding you back from being the person you want to be? It isn’t worth it. There are two things that constantly stand in the way of being the person we want to be. Fear and procrastination. We spend countless hours doing things that need to be done, that should be done, that we are doing now instead of putting them off until after we do the things we must do. My advice?Stop doing laundry. Ignore the dishes. DVR the show, or watch it tomorrow on the internet. Everything that clamors for our time will be there clamoring in an hour. Put it down. Walk away. And spend the next 45-60 minutes doing something that you’ve been putting off. Write. Work out. Pray. Read. Take a hot bath and plan your next move. Decide what it is that you’ve always wanted and for one hour every day ignore everything else and work on it. If you do the dishes now it’ll take 20 minutes. If you wait until after the next meal it’ll take 30. You’re saving 10 minutes of dishwashing and a large part of your sanity by deciding that WHAT YOU, YOURSELF, WANT FOR YOUR SELF MATTERS.
As for me, I’m still sick. Bone weary, aching, this will be twice as bad for me as it was for my kids sick. And I’ve only been up for a few hours and this post is more than half a day late. But I’m writing it. I worked on my book in the hot Epsom salt bath I took to attempt to warm my muscles enough to get them moving. I worked on my networking while I dried my hair. I have a feeling, a feeling I’ve had for decades. I’ve had a feeling ever since I was nine or ten that I would die relatively young. But it doesn’t matter to me as much anymore, because my life is going to be exactly as long as it was always going to be. I don’t know how long that is or when it will be over, but I will not die now without having tried to be her. That person in my head that I’ve always pictured I would be someday. She’s awesome, a good mom, an excellent wife, and a published writer who made the world a little better because she was here.
Fear can suck it. I don’t have time for it any more.