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Thursday, April 12, 2012

My Lack of Pixie Dust

Some writers like to pretend that words come from some magical place inside of them, and when a muse hits them, these wonderful words splatter all over the page and make novels like pixie dust makes flight. I say "pretend" because this has never happened for me, but I could be wrong and other writers may actually spew words in a flurry of rainbows and starlight.

I, however, am not one of those writers. I love writing, more than I love about 99% of things on Earth. But I also really love my dog (he falls into the 1% of things that I truly love), and there are times that he does things that make me curse not only his existence but my own, since I'm the one that brought him into my life.

Writing is a lot like that. But when I made a decision that I wanted writing to be my career and that I wanted to treat it like a career, I moved the box labeled "Writing" to a different part of my brain.

That's important, or at least it was to me. For most of my life, "Writing" had lived in the part of my brain that harbored such things as unicorns, Peter Pan, and wedding pictures of me and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. It's the part of the brain that I labeled "Happy Fun Time" and most other people would probably categorize as "Fantasy."

That meant that I wrote when I felt like it. When I was consumed by some kind of fantasy that I wanted to get out on paper. I don't like the word "fantasy" in this context very much, because to me, when you say "I was fantasizing" about anything, it immediately sounds dirty. So let me assure you that when I say was fantasizing about things, most of the time it is lame and completely nonsexual.

I have a thing called "pressured speech." I wasn't really "diagnosed" with it, because it's not a condition so much as a symptom of one. I do have real conditions, though. Like "major depressive disorder." And "anxiety disorder" coupled with "social anxiety." I may also be "bipolar" but the mania and the depressive episodes seem to have leveled out, so who the hell knows anymore? Not me, that's fore sure.

Anyway, pressured speech (as defined by Wikipedia) is a tendency to speak rapidly and frenziedly, as if motivated by an urgency not apparent to the listener. That means that I often talk very, very quickly, and I can also be hard to understand. (Both my mom and Eric say I've gotten much better about this in recent years. My mom thinks that doing interviews has it made it a lot better, because I learned to speak more slowly and deliberately).

If I had to define myself by one single quality, it would be pressured speech. I have always been filled with someone unknown, unreasonable urgency to get ideas out. When I speak, when I write, it all comes from the same manic, insistent place inside of me.

But I'd been told most of my life that that's the way it is. When you hear of great writers, they're always tormented by demons and write when the muse hits. So I thought, this is the way it is. My life will constantly be filled by manic highs, low lows, and I can only write when I feel like it. You cannot control the muse!

When I made one simple realization - that I could control the way I wrote, that I was in charge of the muse and not the other way around - everything in my life changed. I moved the "Writing" box to a different part of my brain, and then I began shuffling around all the boxes. I realized I'd just left them where I found them and had never bothered to organize the clutter of my mind (and there is a lot of clutter. There's nothing I love more than useless facts and trivia).

I have at times suffered debilitating depression that had nothing to do with anything going on in my life. (This right here is the single most accurate description of depression I've ever read in my entire life.) It's not a matter of choosing to be sad over happy, although I do think that is a small part of it.

But for me, I make choices every day that have kept my mood relatively stable for the past five years, and I've been able to write more often with more follow-through than ever before. I hardly ever start projects I don't finish anymore. I make deadlines, and with few exceptions, I keep them.

I still tend to write in a way that is similar to "pressured speech." I'm in more control of it than I was before. I don't think I'll ever be able to be a person that does things in moderation. But I am controlling my levels of excess. I may write thousands of words in a night, but I do it because I decide to, and if I have to do something tomorrow instead of writing, I don't freak out that I'm being taken away from it. I know it'll be there when I get back, and I know I can make myself write again when it's time to.

So what happened when I moved the "Writing" box inside my brain? I realized that I was in control. I decide when I am going to write, and I make myself write, even if I don't want to. There is nothing magical about writing. It is wonderful, wonderful, difficult, mind-numbing work.

I don't know why I decided to blog about this tonight. I wrote tonight on accident. I meant to just work on the outline a bit more, and I ended up writing two chapters. That almost never happens to me. It's usually the other way around, where I sit down to right, and just end up tweaking the outline and screwing around on the internet. (The internet is literally the cause of and solution to all my problems).

So I was just feeling good about writing and life in general. Writing does always put me in a better mood, and it's nice when things just ... work. Sometimes it's like Sisyphus pushing the same boulder up the hill every day, and other days it just flows.

But no matter what, it's always work, it's always a choice, and nobody ever sprinkles fairy dust on my laptop.

27 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I am actually glad you posted this. Now I know it isn't just me and I'm really not alone!

    My novels are definitely not created with the help of pixie dust. I do, however, mention a unicorn in my first book! =P

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  3. This is really good. I can completely relate to all of it--the fact that writing got put in a different "brain box" once I started doing it full-time, the depression/social anxiety/etc, and Hyperbole and a Half! Writing is so difficult but so rewarding. Thanks for this.

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  4. Hey Amanda! I am a big fan!
    I love your blog, and absolutley love your stories.
    About the MBA series, SWEAR. ):
    I know you just cant find an awsome idea to how to end the books, but just like.. Make jacks REAL mate appear. The one he is meant to be with, cause you never said alice was the one, only that her bond with peter broke when jack turned her.

    Just make it interesting with your amazing writing skills, and incoorpoate poor Peter to the book and all the love triangle tension going on.
    Well, i love everything you wright, and hope you get your inspiration back soon so you can create TONS

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    2. Caroline BushnellApril 13, 2012 at 5:23 AM

      Amanda,
      I can relate, I love to run but when I think about it too much or consider competing in it it takes the joy out of it and I want to do it when the mood hits me. I love your stories and I was excited when I saw one of your books on a shelf at walmart the other day, my husband was a little concerned when I was jumping up and down when I saw it because he did not know who you were to me. You allowed me to check out for a bit from my normally mundane life and be enthralled in someone elses life. I love what you write so keep writing and I will keep reading.

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  5. Thank you for this insight, Amanda.

    I agree that you can control when you write.

    But I am curious, do you actually have a muse? I'm always curious about author's muses.

    And how do you handle writer's block, if you get it?

    I really like your blog.

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  6. Such an excellent post, with great advice, but all I can think about is the fact that you had a crush on Jonathan Taylor-Thomas. I was so sure I was going to marry him.

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  7. I too would love to see MBA finished. I have been waiting for so long!!

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  8. This was wonderful. Seriously. But I do hope that, at least once, you get to glimpse the unicorn...see the shimmer of pixie dust.... Just once, for a moment...just to know if it exists. Until then, though, keep running up that hill. (Great, now I have that Kate Bush song in my head again...)

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  9. This is awesome =). It's wonderful to see how you channel pressured speech and some of the characteristics of anxiety and depression to your benefit and make them work FOR you instead of being victimized by them. Very empowering! I know no method is full-proof, but that's just life and it's clear that you're able to work with who you are and what you've got. We don't have to fix everything about ourselves.

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  10. I am glad that you put a name to this. I tend to write and speak in frenzied waterfalls that are sometimes out of control. It's like trying to slowly release the water behind the dam, but the water forces its way out too fast. My only saving grace is my typing ability. I can type almost as fast as I can think. My fingers, after winning a challenge against a faceless name in high school, at one point were able to type 206 words per minute. I am a bit older now, but I can still keep up pretty well. My typing ability is a strange and interesting story all by itself. For those who are interested, I shared it on Hubpages.

    http://matthewleo1701.hubpages.com/hub/How-I-Became-The-Fastest-Typist-On-The-Planet-But-Never-Knew

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  11. Hi Amanda,

    I've suffered with debilitating depression for years too and I was sitting around for a long time (years infact) waiting for my muse to show up again.

    I popped into my little local library in north london in the UK a couple of days ago and saw your book "switched" there. I borrowed your book from the library despite the fact that I've already got the kindle versions of the Trylle series because I wanted to read your short story included in the book, "The vittra attacks".
    It's not easy to get self published books in the library system.

    Anyway, I got home and I wanted to congratulate you on all your success but more than that I wanted to say how much you are inspiring many writers who have spent far too long procrastinating or waiting for their muse to show up.

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  12. I could so relate to that depression blog. I laughed til I got tears in my eyes (quietly at my desk here at work in cubicle land).

    So you're saying you DON'T sit down at 8 am everyday with a cup of coffee all ready to start in on chapter 10? And then at 5 pm with chapter 10 finished and chapter 11 outlined, you are done for the day? Wouldn't THAT be convenient.

    I admire you for taking your risks and all your hard work. I like to check in on you. Your books were the first I bought (all of them!) when I got a kindle so you hold a special place in my heart! Keep writing!

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  13. This is one of my favorite blog posts you've ever written. So beautiful, and so much to think about. I've never heard of pressured speech, and it actually seems a lot like the way I think too. It's so, so interesting to think of things this way. Thank you for this!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  14. Awesome post, but, you write really well so it's not surprising. I'm a visual artist not a writer, but I think creative people -- maybe all people -- if they are personally successful, learn to use what they have, disabilities and abilities both. And that can be tough so I think it's great that you have done it, and left breadcrumbs to follow.

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  15. I'd be so upset if there was fairy dust on my laptop. That stuff never goes away.

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  16. Amanda,
    I must say you are SO wise to be so young. (Ok, I'm young, too, but not as young as you.) This is deliciousness you have right here. It's real. It's to the core of the process of writing. Rule number one: Writers must write.
    Too often we let other crap get in the way.
    This post wears a cape.
    And thank you for it.

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  17. I dont like calling my "happy fun time" fantasies either, but more due to the fact that when I hear the word fantasy, I think about fairy tales, dreams that would never occur, that are impossible. Some of my dreams are realistic, and others I can make possible. But the most popular characters in my "happy fun time" are the protagionists from my favorite novels, I dont think of those as fantasies either, I think of them as daydreams, somewhere I can escape to during the day

    Makayla

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  18. I enjoy reading your blog every now and then...I fumbled on to this one and just thought I would drop a note, nothing to serious or anything. I think it's great you have pointed out not everyone is perfect. Depression is a real problem with real people. Just on a side note because I'm a geek when it comes to psychology bi polar is the same as major depressive disorder. The only thing that is different is the debilitating depression as you mentioned...just thought it would be another random fact you could enter in one of your mental boxes...Thanks for everything you write Amanda!

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  19. Maybe, just maybe.... when things just work, and you feel good about writing and life in general... well, maybe that's when there is a small amount of pixie motes floating in the air behind your chair.

    I appreciate your honesty in posts such as this. They are very open and I think that is what draws people to you. Thanks.

    A fellow Minnesoootan

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  20. Thank you! This is just what I needed to read tonight, as I work on moving my writing box to a different past of my brain yet again. (somehow, it keeps slipping...)

    Thanks again, and happy writing!

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  21. Writing isn't fairy dust but it's almost magical when you reach the final product.

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  22. Yes and Yes to everything. I can relate to the depression, thanks for sharing that cartoon. I too, told my Writing to pack up and move out of 'That Would Be Great' Land into 'Do It or DIE.'

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  23. Ok, I love this line: "For most of my life, "Writing" had lived in the part of my brain that harbored such things as unicorns, Peter Pan, and wedding pictures of me and Jonathan Taylor Thomas." I'm so happy I'm not the only one who still remembers my girlhood crush on Mr. Thomas. ;)

    And this is also true of me: "It's usually the other way around, where I sit down to right, and just end up tweaking the outline and screwing around on the internet. (The internet is literally the cause of and solution to all my problems)."

    I have to tell you, this whole post is a huge help for me right now. I read that description of depression you posted in a link and... yeah, I've been there. And right now I feel like I'm stuck in my writing and it's driving me crazy. It's not even that I'm stuck on the story or the plot, but simply that I can't work up the drive to write. And that in itself is extremely depressing.

    But this post is inspirational, and I agree: it's time I start thinking of writing in a different way. It's time I tackle my writing life in a new way, so that I don't freak myself out when I feel like I haven't been able to write for a week, or a month, or several months... :P :P :P I think I'm going to try this. Thanks for the inspiration.

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  24. Fabrice Muamba disclosed to reporters just to get out of bed feeling:" I only in my bedside control myself5 paces, but like this, makes me feel like in London ray ban sale a marathon, you know, a few months ago and I still think to run a few miles is still very easy things. I will never forget that a few steps, I felt like a toddler, like my 3 year old son, Joshua, I can't even put their feet go back to bed."

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