I was pulled down a whirlpool and ended up in a really dark place around May 19 and stayed there for over a week. My depression got really bad and I struggled with persistent thoughts of suicide. I told my psychologist these thoughts were the worst they’ve been since I’ve been her patient. I actually felt worried because I didn’t feel in control of myself. I believe this was result of the failed rereading of my book that I attempted on May 8, where I went back to the beginning of the book and felt nothing but disconnected from Orly and her story. I had never felt disconnected from Orly before and I panicked over it, worrying that everything we had written was shit. Stuck in this terrible place, I decided to just put it down and step away from it, hoping to return once my mood improved.

Thirty-four days have passed since I last looked at my new book. I feel like I’ve mostly come out of the depression and am in a better place now. Fourteen days ago I began thinking I might try rereading again, but I was so afraid that I would still feel disconnected and end up back at the bottom of that whirlpool that out of fear I put it off. My psychiatrist suggested not going back to Chapter One, instead going back only to Chapter Fifteen as I had been more recently immersed in that section of the book. I thought that was insightful and considered it, but ultimately I decided against it, because I know I need to go back to the beginning to assess what I have as whole so that I can begin to write new sentences, continuing where I had left off.

A picture from Starbucks
A barista wrote on the bag containing my oatmeal, thanking me for the donuts.

Yesterday, which was Friday 06/01/2021, I saved a new version of the manuscript and marked the file title with 06.12.21 in an attempt to encourage myself to try rereading today. Now that pandemic restrictions are beginning to relax, I decided to try my reread at Starbucks store 20537, which had been a second home to me while writing Scribbling the Eternal. I had not written there since the pandemic began. I woke up early so I could pick up donuts for the baristas and get a table before they were all taken, as only half the tables are available in order to promote social distancing. It became clear to me quickly that I had grown rusty at writing in public as I found it difficult to ignore the people who came and went and not hear the music being piped in over what I heard through my headphones—two songs by Mazzy Star and three by MXMS on repeat.

Despite the distractions, I remained in my seat and began to reread. I struggled to connect to my own words and I was afraid of what the consequences of that might be. Here and there I would connect and feel like I was reclaiming my hold on my story, but then some passages later, I would feel my grip upon it slip. I stopped many times, but forced my way to the end of the first chapter. I then packed up my things and left Starbucks. I headed home where I would continue in solitude, hoping that might change things. As I read, again the connection came and went. My worry increased. I took a Klonopin and later another.

I made it to the end of Chapter Three, feeling half engaged and half empty. It was an improvement from my reread in May, but it’s not enough to feel good. Not wanting to wait to see if my mood plunges, I’m going to try to keep going, in whatever increments I can and just hope to build some momentum and find my way back to when Orly and I were in this together.  

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On April 30th, my beta readers received Chapters Fourteen through Seventeen of my new book. Before moving on to Chapter Eighteen I thought it would be a good idea to do rewrites of the preceding chapters in the hopes of making improvements but also because I felt like I had lost perspective on how the book was feeling as a whole, especially in tone. Something terrible happened when I began rereading—I didn’t like what was there. The emotions I thought Orly had poured out across the pages now seemed dulled. The writing felt prosaic. I made it through the first section of Chapter Three before I stopped. I was so confused because I knew I had been happy with these pages less than a year ago. True, as time passes, I tend to become less satisfied with my work, but that’s never happened with a work-in-progress; it happens months after finishing. This experience was especially jarring because I had been feeling so positive about the last seven chapters I sent my beta readers.

I decided to take a break from my book. I had written for 79 days in a row, so it was disappointing to end that streak, but I didn’t know what else to do. I haven’t written now for four days, and I’m not sure when I’ll begin again. But I’m hoping when I return to it, I’ll read those opening chapters differently, and again see what I had been happy with. But I’m really scared that won’t happen. I’m getting close to 70K words. What if I come back in a couple of weeks and think none of it is any good?

My best friend and my psychologist both suggested that what’s really happening is that I’m rereading these chapters through a lens of negativity. I’ve been dealing with a lot of low self-esteem lately, and they feel it’s affecting the way I’m reading my work. I hope that’s all it is, but I also know this will mean yet more work on my self-esteem with my therapist, and to be truthful, as much as I need to, I don’t like working on it. It’s really uncomfortable. It’s hard for me to see myself as worthy because I can’t discount the flaws. My psychologist had me take this assessment on self-compassion. On a scale from one to five, with five being the best, I scored 1.52 overall.

I talked to four of my beta readers this week regarding their responses to the newest chapters. I’m very fortunate to have them. Not only because they provide feedback but because they remain enthusiastic about the story. Their enthusiasm helps because it gives me hope that what’s happening right now really is about the lens in which I am seeing myself and my work, and that maybe I’m wrong. I want to be wrong. I want to love my book again.

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Last night I was driving home and a song I hadn’t heard in a long while came on. It was by a local singer who played at a bar I happened to be at in Fullerton many years ago. He sang while playing an acoustic guitar. I was touched by his lyrics and the passion in his voice. I bought two of his CDs and transferred them to my iPod which is how this favorite song of his came to be playing on my car stereo last night. I don’t know what happened to him. Today, I searched his name on Spotify and then Google and found nothing.

Recently, I received messages from two readers who told me how my books affected them. When I recalled their words as I played the song again, I felt good knowing my work meant something to them just as this open mic singer’s song had meant so much to me.

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It’s been over a month since I posted. It’s not that I’d forgotten, I’ve been waiting to have something happy to post. But the truth is, I’m writing about suicide while feeling suicidal. I haven’t mentioned it here, but I’ve talked about it in my personal (private) blog how in sync Orly and I have been emotionally while working on her final book. Loneliness. Isolation. Despair.

Yesterday I woke thinking about the James Joyce quote I have tattooed on my stomach:

“One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.”

For decades, I always saw the full glory of some passion anchored in my youth—when I loved more intensely and my daydreams were larger. But it occurred to me yesterday that it is right now that I am in the full glory of some passion with Orly, as I’ve never felt so invested in something I was writing. On the one hand, this felt great and redemptive. The pinnacle of my life had not happened twenty-seven years ago as I had thought; it’s happening now. But on the other hand, it’s telling me to, or at least making me feel okay with letting go of my life when I finish writing her story. I told my shrink, two sessions ago, that I need to find something to occupy myself with when I finish this book, and I need to find it now so that it’s there waiting for me, because I don’t see what my purpose will be when I lose Orly to her story being over.

There’s a stage play I’m considering writing, but I don’t feel strongly about it, and I don’t know how to create passion. I wonder if the passion I feel right now is the result of writing Orly for so many years or because there is so much of me in her final installment. Throughout Scribbles of the Empress, I find myself offering Orly reasons to live and at the same time I’m panicking to find my reasons after it’s finished.

This isn’t a cry for help. If I want to convey anything, it’s that I hate feeling like this. The last sentence of the opening paragraph of Chapter Four is: Wanting to die hurts in a way that no other pain does. Orly and I are saying that in chorus. We hate feeling like this.

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I’m experimenting with setting deadlines in the near future for me to reach the next major plot point in my new book. I’ve set one for Orly to kill a character next Sunday. I got the idea from a book that suggested giving yourself short deadlines in order to create urgency and even panic that will push you to get things done. Apparently long deadlines will slow and perhaps even kill productivity. I don’t know if it will work but already it made me sit down today for my first serious writing session since January 25. I ordered a calendar on which I plan to circle the deadline dates in bright red ink so I can’t avoid seeing the looming deadlines. I guess the test will be how well I hold myself accountable. But like I said at the beginning of this post, this is just something I’m experimenting with. If I feel the quality of what I’m getting on the page is suffering, I’ll quickly abandon it. But I hope it works because it would be nice if my productivity was more consistent and that would make it easier to predict when I might actually finish the book. And of course, if this technique could help me become more prolific as a writer overall, that would be a big improvement.

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I’ve been reading this book on happiness. One of the things it mentioned was doing things for yourself. Intrinsic motivations instead of extrinsic ones. My psychologist (whom I discussed this with today) has been trying to get me to focus on this for months; I feel like I disappointed her when I told her that this book (which she pointed out wasn’t written by a psychologist) struck a chord with me. I think I understood what she was saying in the months before, but I think now something finally sunk in. When I think about book sales, number of downloads, reviews, email subscribers, social media followers, and needing a day job, I feel bad about myself. But today, while sitting in my car, drinking chai, I realized that if I stripped everything away but the books themselves, and just imagined myself sitting with them all alone, I’m already happy.

I’ve said before that when I look back at my work I always find things I’d like to rewrite, but on a whole, with Orly’s two books, I’m pleased with how they turned out and feel I accomplished what I wanted in writing them. And with Orly’s third book, I already feel happy with it, even though it’s not even half written, because I like how the story is building, where it is going, and where I believe it will end up. It’s when I’m not writing that I start thinking about external validations, like the ones I listed above. I have to learn to stop going there and instead run to that place where it’s just me and my books.

(For some reason, today, that imaginary place is red and barren, like what I remember of a Thomas Ligotti story I read so many years ago.)

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The Fussy Librarian campaign for The Last Midnight resulted in over a thousand downloads. My goal was 900, so I’m satisfied, but the thought of that many eyes on my new words makes me want to hide behind a curtain.

Still, I hope a large number of those who downloaded will read the book, like it, and then decide to utilize the free download link to The Scribbled Victims that follows the end of the story, which will introduce more readers to Orly and sign them up for my mailing list. This reader magnet/book funnel strategy is something I learned from an indie author course I paid for. I hope it works.

Today, I didn’t write, but instead spent hours learning about keywords and book categories and incorporating the things I learned into my current Amazon listings. This I hope will get more visibility for my books which will hopefully result in more readers.

But even if none of the above works, I still feel good right now because a reader posted a review saying The Last Midnight is beautiful, and my most important goal as a writer is to write something beautiful. It’s more important to me than having a large audience or enough royalties to quit my day job. Don’t get me wrong, I want those things too, but creating something beautiful has always come first, since that night I stayed up in bed reading The Dead when I was sixteen and was awed by its beauty and its perfection.

Sometimes I think some of my sentences are beautiful. Sometimes I think elements of my stories are beautiful. And those sometimes feel like the reward of writing. But invariably, self-doubt will make those feelings recede. Sure they come back, like the tide, when I reread or daydream about what I’ve written, but hearing it from a reader means a lot because their belief in me gives me reason to question the self-doubt that obscures the beauty I sometimes get a glimpse of in my own work.

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The Last Midnight is now widely available for free on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Audible, and paperback. You can see all the links on this page. Today is day eight since it went wide and it’s had over sixty downloads. Not stellar, but not bad either. I’m trying to remain optimistic that I will have many more downloads to come, hoping they will lead many readers to the free download of The Scribbled Victims at the end of the book, so that those who like my writing in The Last Midnight will be introduced to Orly Bialek. On January 29, my free downloads will be announced by The Fussy Librarian website, who will include it in their email to over 40,000 subscribers in the Paranormal Romance category.

Here’s hoping for the best. 

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I haven’t posted here in over a month. My depression is still bad, but I’m trying. I only wrote 13 days this month, but 10 of those days happened in the last 12 days of December. I also had a December word count of 4,347 new words when my monthly goal is 6,000. I feel these things are significant and positive and hopefully a sign that I’m picking myself back up. I just emailed Chapters Eight, Nine, and Ten to my beta readers. They haven’t received new Orly chapters since July 28. A lot of that was because of interrupting my progress with Orly to write and publish The Last Midnight, but in looking at my word count spreadsheet, more of it is the result of depression. But again, it looks like I might be picking myself back up.

Today is the last day of 2020. I know it’s been a bad year for most because of the pandemic, police violence, and our election being contested, but today I’m trying to see the small positives. I exchanged video messages with my best friend nearly every day. I imagined and published The Last Midnight. I learned that I enjoy working from home. And I’ve begun to gain the courage to retire from my day job early. I’m looking forward to 2021. I’m hoping the Covid-19 vaccine will help turn things around. I’m hoping I will finish writing Scribbles of the Empress so that I can publish it in early 2022. I’m hoping I will cope with my depression and anxiety well enough to remain productive.

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