I have written once in January so far, though. I was watching an ASMR video with rain and thunder. And I felt a small tug. I wrote an newly conceived, emotional scene about rain from a much later Magic Inc. book. Not for some goal. Not because I was trying to push myself to my limits. I wrote it for me. For my therapeutic good. Because it felt right.
I've noticed in the last year or so a lot of ambitious writers having life or burnout slow them down. And it seems to really throw them off. Makes them question themselves. Whether they are really writers when they are not actively writing. And I just want to tell them taking breaks is okay! Taking it slow is okay! Having very productive periods, then not so productive periods is okay! I hear a lot of writers online promoting and talking about huge goals and writing every day, especially in the new year. And that's totally fine if it works for you! But burnout is real, the effects of anxiety and depression are real, and sometimes outside life has to come first. We are still so very early in the year. We have a lot of time to reach our goals, whatever they may be. No need to rush.
In the mess of December, I did also (briefly) return to Dreaming in Shadow for the first time in about eight months. Christmas Eve was the fifteenth anniversary of the dream that inspired Dreaming in Shadow, so maybe it was only natural. But I've been avoiding Dreaming in Shadow like it was cursed. I may have been able to rationalize putting it away well enough. I wanted to finish Magic Inc. Book Two, and that was my priority through all of 2018. And I do think that was the right choice at the time. But I've been struggling with this story for longer than that. Our world has become a dark and dangerous place, and Dreaming in Shadow feels too real now. I felt guilty for dreaming it up. For putting so much of myself into it for so many years. I've feared the shame I might get for putting this story out into the world now. I've shamed myself for loving it. I've (figuratively) thrown it away. I've shunned my own darkness.
When I dropped out of school in 2005, I was in a very bad place for years. I am not proud of that part of my life. But after suffering through lonely years of being subjected to an endless attack of my own thoughts and not finding many good outlets for my pain, I began writing regularly again. It was a struggle at first. But I made it part of my therapy, bringing in my week's work to Jill, even if it was only a page. Even if it was less than a page. I also began (slowly) to find a better balance in my relationship with myself. With my own darkness. I still went through yearly emotional crashes that sometimes took months to recover from. But in between, I had found peace with my darkness. I acknowledged it, and it didn't control me anymore. I think part of that peace was found in writing darker stories like Dreaming in Shadow and Miss Masquerade.
When I found the right medication, things got even better. Especially when my psychiatrist upped my dosage in 2014. Though social things were still completely difficult and draining, I could do more without having a panic attack right in the moment. Even my recovery time got better, though it was still far slower than the average person. There were still so many things I struggled with, but I was probably in the best place I had ever been in, objectively speaking. I was still deeply unhappy, but I could distract myself better, and I had an outlet for my emotions. Writing. My long-time friend. The longest sustained friendship I had ever had. Which was, in a way, primarily a relationship with myself. You know what they say about your only lifelong relationship being with yourself?
And then, the fear came back. I watched online communities ripping books apart. Ripping authors apart. Sometimes it seemed to be with good reason. But that didn't change how it made me feel. I was terrified. With one wrong move, I could be a target again. The years of bullying resurfaced. Blocked out memories of my worst years did, too. I was not getting attacked, online or otherwise. But I started attacking myself again. Shaming myself for every piece of my own darkness. For past mistakes, both tiny and huge. I hated myself again. And I tried to repress. Both the worst parts of me... and the best: my stories. Because I was confusing the two. I didn't think I deserved to tell my stories because I was too damaged.
I fought a close to two year battle with my self-doubt (which is far too mild a word for what this really was; self-shame, self-guilt, self-hatred), and I finished Magic Inc. Book Two. I even found my way back to loving writing by beginning Book Three. But I had pushed Dreaming in Shadow back into the dark recesses of my mind, like it was part of the worst of me. I still felt ashamed of it. The short bursts of feeling tempted to go back to it were always quickly broken. But I think it was different this time. (Though maybe I'm just kidding myself.) I read the last section I had been revising. I had written an almost completely new scene back in April. And it was good. And I realized how much I missed the story. How much I missed my broken children. I messaged Mallory, "I sometimes think Jodi and Jeremy are part my own shadow. Like Vanessa. And by turning away from their story, I'm rejecting my own darkness."
I spent some time writing just a bit to add to that chapter. I explored Jodi's thoughts of Shadow being a frightened little boy who had been taught that only violence could free him from his nightmares. And then I too quickly ran out of ground to cover because I had reached a section that I had never decided how to change from the first draft. And I didn't want to force it. So, I just let it sit. I talked about it in therapy. And I decided that when I figured out how to fix that scene, it would be a sign that I should return. I wasn't quite ready yet, but I could see that time approaching just off in the horizon.
It's okay to take your time. With anything. They say if you wait to be ready, that time will never come. But I think that's a lie. I think there is such a thing as being ready. I think our culture is obsessed with making outward progress. Something we can use to prove our worth on social media. Or at family holiday parties. We're all trying so hard to prove our worth that we've decided we are only worth something if we're achieving. And that's not true. There is worth in just being a human. There is worth in accepting yourself as you are.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to achieve things in 2019. It's noble to want to improve yourself and your life. But balance is important, too. Remembering why your goals and priorities are what they are. How you want to feel about yourself. Instead of just pushing your limits. Instead of rushing and burning out. The start of a new year can be a great catalyst for goals and dreams. It can be a great motivator. But we need to be able to make changes when the time is right for us. If, like me, you need some recovery time before you start achieving those goals, that's okay! And remember to take some breaks in between, as well. Many people give up on goals and resolutions because they push themselves to the point of burnout. Pace yourself. Rest and reevaluate when necessary. Reassess what's working and not working. We have a whole year. And I believe in you.