Did I just order fifty pounds of powdered sugar on Amazon for cookie season? Yes, yes I did.
I finished the first draft of my novel yesterday. It ultimately clocked in at 59,722 words.
My feelings right now are still pretty mixed. While the first draft is done, the novel itself isn’t actually done. So that weight is still there.
On the one hand, like I’ve said, I’m proud of having done this thing. Actually drafting a story like this from beginning to end was something that I had convinced myself was impossible for me to do. I believed that for a long time.
On the other hand, what I have now is a garbage pile of words that I kind of want to set on fire. I’m told this is a normal headspace to be in. I kind of never want to see this project again. Although I’ve told this story from start to finish, it’s missing a lot of things. I know that the first pass revision is going to involve extensively rewriting the whole thing, and it’ll basically feel like writing an entirely new story. Maybe. I mean, I guess I don’t know that, but that’s what it feels like from this myopic emotional distance.
Here’s some of the stuff I do know:
It’s almost the end of October, so now is a good time to pause and reflect on the month. This October has been particularly meaningful to me because I re-focused on my personal goals and admitted some personal truths to myself. It was a month where I was more conscious of my jerkbrain (the part of my brain that’s terribly mean to me and tells me I can’t do things) and the various ways that I (used to) set myself up to fail. One of the most insidious ways is how I used the word “try.”
I imagine this is how pretty much all of us are raised. I use it liberally, sprinkled into the promises I make myself and the promises I make other people. And it seems like such a small, harmless little word. So easily inserted into something to prove how earnest you are. We’re all taught not to make powerful statements for fear of falling short, so we add in this small verbal tic to make things sound sweeter and more gentle.
How little we realize that we are semantically encoding failure into our thought processes.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the last couple months. Just devouring and devouring books upon books almost indiscriminately. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, biographies, cookbooks, romance – bits and pieces of everything (I read a tad broadly…). I’ve been drinking these words in and swimming in them, luxuriating in them, indulging. It feels like I’m gorging on them, barely even choosing, heedless of genre (or sometimes quality). For the past two months now, it’s felt hurried and frenetic, and I didn’t stop to wonder why.
A post from BookRiot came up in my feed today: a suggested 20 book reading list for Ravenclaws. (Turns out there’s one for Hufflepuffs too, and then a more general list of recommended books. Presumably Gryffindor and Slytherin specific lists are forthcoming.) After perusing the list, I felt gratified that the books listed were either ones I’ve read or ones on my TBR list (definitely counts). Should I feel gratified because a random internet list confirmed my kinship with an imaginary group of people? Answer: who cares. And also, embrace the whimsy in your life.
I spent the bulk of my morning today rebuilding my website. I was hosted at Weebly, but decided to make the move back to my tried-and-true WordPress.
(If you’re coming from Salt & Subtext, the stuff below the cut is the same as what’s posted over there.)
This time of year might be my second favorite (I’ve got a soft spot for deep winter that has yet to be usurped). But this is the time of year when the weather first starts to hint at cold. And when trees start dressing in their colorful finery, bit by bit. Then all at once the world is covered in red and gold and orange and you are suddenly surrounded by fall. This is the season of decorative gourds. Of costumes and candy. Of cinnamon and cider and houses that smell like spice.
This is the time of year when I feel most wistful and whimsical and downright sentimental. It makes me self-reflective (even more so than usual) and quiet (again, even more so than usual). What is it about fall that makes a person feel poetical and nostalgic?
I wrote my actual resignation letter today.
For the past three months, I’ve been on a leave of absence, one that ends at the end of month four. And as previously agreed, it’s around this time, the beginning of my fourth month, that I’m supposed to contact my programs and tell them whether I’m going back or not. I thought about this last week, mentioned this soft deadline to a couple of friends. Mused about it a little. But I hesitated in writing the letter. I’m not sure why. Not because I had second thoughts about my decision to leave. More because it felt like this moment should be some kind of event. I thought it would feel more weighty, more permanent, more. I thought I would feel some kind of finality, like the fabric of my life was shifting, like… something. But I feel the same today having written the letter as I did yesterday when I was still musing.
When I first went and told my program that I was planning to leave, we had several meetings. They were supportive meetings. Meetings that asked after burn-out and my mental state (the answers to those things were yes and mildly depressed respectively). There was plenty of shock and confusion because I had never really talked about quitting before – it wasn’t something I discussed with the people in my program. I probably could have, but it was a process I needed to work through myself. And I didn’t have any performance issues – I was a good doctor by most measures; I just didn’t have any passion for the job. After a good amount of back and forth, my program directors convinced me to take a leave of absence instead of outright resigning. When they first talked to me about this, I was resistant. They wanted me to take it because it would leave a door open, and I didn’t want to take it for the exact same reason. There was a part of me that felt that the decision I made had to be final for it to stick. I kept thinking that if I took a leave, if I knew I could go back, then when things became hard or scary, I would run back to it. As if I would wake up one day and find that the will and courage and moxie I dredged up from the depths of somewhere would have evaporated, and all this would have been some kind of dream.
I mean, I get it. It was a momentous decision by any metric. When a decision seems that huge and life-altering (and in my case, seemingly sudden, though it wasn’t, not really), they want to really make sure that you are sure. That you won’t have regrets. And I appreciate that, the effort and the sentiment and care that went into pushing me to take the leave. I really do. But the flipside of that was I was already living with about a decade of regrets, and this was my first attempt to try to step away from that.
To do or not to do? To try or not to try? Most people will vote no, whether they consider themselves brave or not. Uncertainty and the prospect of failure can be very scary noises in the shadows, and most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.
It was a choice that I made over and over again, until I decided to choose differently.
And maybe it didn’t feel huge and momentous because this was a decision I had actually made months and months ago. The sharpening of sentiment, the nostalgia, the doubt – those were things I felt briefly the day that I packed up my desk, turned in my key. But now. Now I’ve spent three months living my life after, and I feel… light. I feel happy – something that I really haven’t been able to say in a long time. I feel more like myself than I have in forever.
Writing the letter was quick, quicker than I expected. There were words at the tips of my fingers that I wanted to send, some words of feeling or some kind of explanation, something to spark… understanding? Forgiveness? (I still have the terrible habit of trying not to disappoint anyone while mostly disappointing myself over and over.) I don’t know. But in the end, it was a few lines that were pretty matter of fact. It was something that I knew already. It was one of those things that once you know you can’t un-know, and I’ve known it for a while.
I’m not going back.
I’ve been working my way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (affiliate link). It is a thoughtful way to speak to the locked-away-artists that live in the deepest recesses of our heart of hearts. The book sets up an interesting, and so far effective, framework for our creative selves, in recognizing and honoring and giving time to them.
One thing that comes up in (what I will affectionately call) TAW is the idea of creativity as a spiritual endeavor, and Cameron frequently invokes God or the Great Creator or just the idea of there being an unknown force in the universe that is working for us. She invokes this particularly when she talks about opportunity – that when you embrace this method and this process and then go on to *create,* the universe or God or the Great Creator will reward you with opportunity.
I have an entirely different view on this point.
It’s hard to know where to begin. So I suppose I might as well begin at the end of one of the most glorious, self-affirming, optimistic, exciting, emotionally draining, and cathartic weeks of my life. With the last and possibly most anticipated, most dreaded, and most important conversation of all.
You know. The one where I told my mother that I wasn’t going to be a doctor anymore.