I’ve been wanting to do a blog post for a while, to reach out to readers and fill them in on what is going on with me. I’ve drafted it in my head a gazillion times, scrawled down bullet-pointed notes on scratch paper and even typed out a full post that I never showed a soul. They all seemed wrong or full of TMI or just… not what I needed to say.
In short, the book is late. It’s very late. You have all noticed.
It was all going so smoothly and wonderfully at the beginning of this year when suddenly, it wasn’t.
I can point to a number of possible reasons, list them out one by one. But in short, somewhere around late spring everything came to a halt, then, as I struggled, it came in fits and starts. The process became mired in a boglike landscape, temporarily alleviated by tiny but fleeting bubbles of hope.
And when people have approached me kindly–and not so kindly–asking, hoping and sometimes demanding I tell them when the book is coming, I never had an answer. Because I refused to make a promise on something I couldn’t be sure of. And how would I begin to explain that I couldn’t be sure of my own brain?
Drafting brand new words out of nowhere has always been the most difficult part of the process for me. And with each subsequent book I’ve written, that process has taken longer and longer. What I drafted in weeks in At Any Price, suddenly became months and longer with each new book.
The first draft is a map… a map you draw while driving at night with very dim headlights. You push yourself to speed ahead while simultaneously trying to stifle the panic of not knowing exactly what you’re facing in that dimness in front of you. It’s anxiety-inducing.
The second draft, is infinitely better, because by that time, I’ve lived with these people in my head and I’ve mapped out the events to a sufficient extent and depth that I can look at them as if they are sitting in my living room, lounging on my couch and sipping tea and eating cookies from my dinnerware. I only have to sit nearby and “eavesdrop” on them to get their mannerisms and inflections and words just right. I can see the color and pattern of the tablecloth, the dust motes swirling in the sunlight. The details all fall into place.
But over the last little while, I’ve become aware of this mounting problem–that the increase demand in time I was taking to produce books was almost all because of this formidable first draft anxiety. And when I set out on this one at the beginning of the year, I vowed that this book would be different.
What I hadn’t counted on was the underlying problem. Because…what do you do when your brain lies to you and tells you relentlessly that each sentence you put down on the page is terrible? That the story is awful and no one will enjoy it? That you may have been able to do this (write a book) before but this time you won’t be able to? You remind yourself again and again that this is a DRAFT and no one will see it until it’s ready and you’ll have more time to go over it again.
But somehow, somewhere, the process breaks down and you start to believe the lies coming from your own brain and each time you fall, it takes longer and longer to summon the will to go back to it. It takes longer and longer to gather the courage to face the manuscript again because you’re so steeped in those lies, they become your truth.
And soon you’re in a deep hole looking up. As each day passes, the feeling compounds and you’re wondering how you’ll ever get out. And you compare yourself to everyone else doing it and seeing how it appears effortless to them and it just makes it all worse “knowing” how inferior you are to every other author out there.
And that is where I was this week, wondering how or when I could scrape up the courage to get back to this draft, all 97,000 words of it (so far) and finally finish so I could redraft. It was a mountain and I was so far from the summit that I couldn’t see. I was stuck there, all hope flagging…
Tonight, I went with my family to see the movie, Frozen 2. And (spoiler alert) at one point, Ana finds herself trapped in a deep hole underground and she thinks all is lost, including her closest loved ones. Then, she begins to sing and her song spoke to me so clearly about my current writerly predicament…that it took my breath away.
“I’ve seen dark before, But not like this…. This grief has a gravity. It pulls me down”
And the tears came because she was singing to me, about me and though I wasn’t actually in a deep dark hole mourning my loved ones, I was figuratively in this deep dark hole mourning the process of doing something I once loved so much I spent every spare moment of time I had to do it willingly. Telling stories is what defined me in so many ways and I was mourning the loss of it…
And like her, my hope was waning and almost gone. And I was crying and getting a headache identifying with this character singing in the crystal clear beautiful voice and mourning along with her. But then, the tone of the song turned and as I listened, even more tears came. I was right there with her, looking at this monumental task of getting our way out of this deep hole, looking up and wondering how.
Then that raw and empty feeling gave way to a pinpoint of light.
She sang on…
“But a tiny voice whispers in my mind, ‘You are lost, hope is gone. But you must go on and do the next right thing… Take a step, step again. It is all that I can do.”
2019 will be the first calendar year as a published author that I will not produce at least one book. I’m overwhelmed with sadness at the thought of that failure. But it doesn’t have to remain that way.
Tonight I’ll take to my keyboard again and I’ll just focus on the next thing to do instead of the overwhelming task of all of it. Instead of climbing the mountain, I’ll just take the next step.
“I won’t look too far ahead. It’s too much for me to take. But break it down to this next breath. This next step. This next choice is one that I can make.”
And while I can’t promise an exact release date for For The Taking, I can promise that when it does release, it will be the story that I will be proudest of, because it will be the next step.
And then I’ll keep on walking.
Brenna, you are not alone, stay strong and do as you said, one step at a time.
I also struggled with depression and it’s exhausting to fight, to stay afloat. But in good days you see all the blessings you have, and realize that that’s what you have to hold on bad days.
Don’t be ashame or sorry for not finishing a book this year, we love you and we’ll wait for you. You matter, you are important to all of your loved ones and yourself. And when you are happy with your writing, you will give it to us, not before, not if you feel pressured, no, only when you like what you wrote, when you love it. We will wait until you are good and strong. Stay strong!
The exhaustion is real! Thanks so much for your encouraging words. Really appreciate it.
Take all the time you need an no your never alone your an extraordinary writer I love each an every one of your books you write your heart an soul in your character’s an book
thank you so much for reading. It really makes me happy to know how much people love the books <3
Sometimes our minds can be our worst enemy. I am a patient reader. I will gladly get For the Taking when you are ready to present it to the world.
Love you, Ricki! You’ve stuck with me since the beginning and I really appreciate it. xo
Love you too!! I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.
Brenna your are a very talented writer. Please take it one step at a time and make your health and well being your first priority. I will be there whenever your next book is published.
Sending you all my love and support
Thank you, Paulette. That’s very kind.
You are an amazing talented writer! Take how every long it takes to get this book just how you want it. Make 2020 your year!
thanks, Jenn! I’ll do just that.
You’ve got to take care of you and find your way forward one step at a time. I found as I was reading the words of the song I got teary. 2019 has been a difficult year for so many of us – filled with losses – some physically with deaths, others mentally. Just keep moving forward…at YOUR pace until you can find your joy again. I’ll wait as long as you need to get the next book out. Take the pressure off yourself so you can once again love writing and sharing your stories. Sending hugs and positive vibes your way!!
Thank you, Barbara. Finding the love again is what it’s all about! Hugs.
Love your books. You take whatever time you need. No one (worth caring about) is judging.
Thank you, Karen! <3
We will wait, don’t you worry. We will be here when you are ready. You got this!
Hugs, Sammie. Thanks.
Sometimes even a cartoon can give hope. Look ahead, better times will come, and I’ll be proud to translate any of your books, when they come.
Thank you for putting your truth out there. I identify with everything you said. And it was inspiring to read. I too, have the first year since being a published author that I will not be releasing a book and it scares the shit out of me. But you are right—one step and then another is all we can do. I believe you that when the book finally comes it will be the one you are proudest of! What amazing steps you have already taken this year to climb out of the hole. 97,000 of them! How incredible! Love you, my friend XOXO Tasha
Sometimes as writers we need to center on ourselves to be able to find this little magic later. Take your time and i’m sure your readers even if they are not happy right now, will be pleased later. Because by taking your time, your book will be even better. My best books were written when my head was the clearest. I wish you all the best for the future and send you love from France and the sunny Nice 🙂
Merci, Tamara! One of the highlights of my year this year was RARE Paris and meeting you & other amazing French authors. Bon courage. <3
Hugs and love to you right back, Tasha. Thank you.
If your passion is causing you pain, it is time to step away and breathe. Let the passion come back to you. Anything forced is not worth the struggle IMHO
And just an FYI- I waited 30 years for Jean Auel to finish the Earth’s Children series (Clan of the Cave Bear) ;o)
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that! (30 yrs…). Thank you for the kind message, Christa.
Brenna, thank you for taking the time to write your very eloquently worded post. I am sending love and light to you, and I KNOW whatever and whenever you release another book, it will be as wonderfully received (if not more so), that’s everything else you have ever taken the care and time to write.
Please know that NOTHING is more important than taking whatever time you need to look after your mental health, and don’t let some keyboard warrior tell you otherwise or make you feel bad for not delivering something they’re too impatient to wait for, these “warriors” are completely insignificant in the grand scheme of things and do not deserve your thoughts or time.
Thank you, Angela. Wonderfully said. I’m certain I’ll feel all that wonderful energy you’ve sent. Hugs.
Brenna, thank you for taking the time and effort to explain what you are going through. I’ve never heard it put so clearly. You are an amazing writer, and I’m proud to call myself a fan. It’s not impossible – remember to tell yourself, “I’m possible”. Sending you hugs and best wishes. ❤
Thank you so much for your kind encouragement. It means a lot! I love the hint about “impossible” and I’ll try to remind myself of that every day! xoxo
Your words speak to us all – at one point in our lives or another we beat ourselves down and convince ourselves that we are not enough. Tend to yourself the way Adam would tend to Mia, with love and understanding and encouragement 🙂
Your true supporters will wait years for your stories and they will be that much more beautiful of stories, having been crafted from someone who has overcome what you have.
Sending you all the positivity, this new year. I know it will be your best one yet.
Cheering you on always,
Ahhh Sarah, thank you so much <3 Knowing that means everything. Big hugs.
As a reader I know I some times forget that author’s have lives to live too. Even when we wait not so patiently we really do understand that you only want to put out your very best and that process has to happen as it happens. Love your books and will read when ever it is ready for the world.
Thank you so much for reaching out and letting me know you love the books. It means so much that you’re willing to wait. I promise to make it worth it.
You are brave for sharing your personal struggles. Many people, myself included have similar struggles daily. Your true fans and supporters will be waiting for the finished product that you are happy with. I am tearful as a type this as I remember different times in my life when a song or movie called out to me as you described above. Let those experiences help you. Set reasonable goals for yourself. I support you and love you.
Ahhh thank you Sara. This experience is helping me in the long run… I already feel so much better now than since the day I wrote this, so that is a big win. 🙂
I’m talking as a mental health professional: what you’re describing sounds like a classic case of performance anxiety. Learning some techniques to manage your anxiety (e.g., mindfulness, deep breathing, perhaps examining some distorted thoughts) will help you get back to writing. This sort of problem is very treatable; you don’t need to keep slogging through this!
A cognitive-behavioral therapist can help with this or even anxiety workbooks can teach you these skills (Peterson’s mindfulness workbook for anxiety and Clark and Beck’s anxiety and worry workbook are two good ones).
hi Kaley, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog post. I really appreciate it and I’m going to take your advice to heart. Already working on some mindfulness techniques but I definitely want to check into those workbooks you suggest. Thanks so much!