It’s been two and a half months since my last blog post. In it, I announced I had finished the first full draft of Scribbles of the Empress and sent the final pages to my beta readers. As I revise heavily as I write, I believed my period of rewrites would be brief—two months—once I received feedback on the last chapters. At the end of May, I took a week off work to really push hard to complete my rewrites. I had originally booked an AirBnb in Portland for solitude and vegan food, but after flying to Colorado at the beginning of May for a work conference, I was too stressed to travel again and so I canceled it. Instead, I planned to rent a desk in a communal office during the week. I wrote there on Monday and Tuesday and got a lot of good work done. Daily parking cost more than the desk and the whole thing felt expensive, so on Wednesday, I decided I would write at Starbucks. The lobby to my usual Starbucks happened to be closed that morning, so I went to my second Starbucks, where to my surprise, an Instagram crush walked in for her morning coffee. I had problems concentrating in public, which is unusual. Maybe it only felt that way after the level of concentration I had while writing at that office. I would have gone back to the office for Thursday and Friday, despite the cost, but chose that Starbucks instead hoping my crush would come in again. She didn’t. But by Sunday, I did what I set out to do with my time off—I finished my rewrites.

Three of my beta readers are reading the entire manuscript as a whole now. Previously, they’d only ever seen it in batches, and that was over a span of thirty-three months. I’m still waiting to hear back from them. I know two of them have been busy with family commitments and the third can’t start reading until the NBA championships are over. I don’t expect anything major to come back, so I hope my next round of revisions will be minimal. I was hoping to give pages to my sister for editing by July 1, but now I think that’ll be delayed.

I’ve been talking to my psychologist about what to do now that the manuscript is pretty much out of my hands. I’ve decided not to jump into writing something new immediately. I’m going to turn my attention to trying to learn how to promote my work. I’ve been making an effort on Instagram, creating images on Canva that incorporates quotes from the new book. I’m also starting to look into TikTok because it seems like people can build large followings quite quickly. I had a stroke of luck last week when a magazine learned of my upcoming book release and asked for an interview. But beyond promotion, I told my psychologist that I want to do something, other than reading, with all this free time I have now. I even said I wanted to do something fun. So I’m thinking about taking Japanese language lessons, painting, and learning how to swim, among other things.

Instagram Image
One of my Canva creations for Instagram

My day job is really bringing me down though. I feel it’s actually affected my health as my blood pressure has recently increased and I’m now taking beta blockers as a result. I didn’t even go to the office today or yesterday because I felt too depressed about it. Yesterday, I worked from home, but today, I only replied to emails in the morning. I wish I could quit, but if I can’t support myself by being an author, I don’t know what other kind of job I’d be willing to do that paid enough. On top of this, I’m still feeling sad with letting go of Orly, now that her trilogy is complete. She’s been my constant companion since 2014. My days feel emptier without her.

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Yesterday I finished the first full draft of Scribbles of the Empress. I started writing it 1,008 days prior, before Covid was a global pandemic. That’s thirty-three months, many of them devoid of word count because I struggled a lot with my own depression while writing this book. It ended up being 108K words, so longer than The Scribbled Victims, but shorter than Scribbling the Eternal.

I’m not sure if this book means more to me than the others, but it certainly means something different. Many of my own struggles with grief and suicide are expressed openly through Orly in this final installment. There’s a section I discarded where Orly addresses her audience and says:

Earlier I said the war against me must seem anticlimactic. It was. But this wasn’t a war story. It’s a story about mourning and suicide. Perhaps it is even about suicide because of the inability to stop mourning. Late in these pages, I realized this is ultimately what all my pages have been about, ever since Yelena died.

I left those words of Orly’s out because it didn’t fit well with the text around it, but also because it breaks the fourth wall, which was something she did in The Scribbled Victims but I forgot to maintain the convention in Scribbling the Eternal.

I just emailed 72 pages to my beta readers, who have remained committed to this book since its beginning and whose help I am very fortunate to have. I’ll begin my rewrites now, hoping they’ll only take a couple of months, as I rewrite heavily as I go. Then editing and proofing. Then book design, typesetting, and audiobook recording. I’m aiming for an October release.

I hope my readers will love the book and how Orly’s series ends.

IG Post for Ashley
Though I’ve been off social media for 142 days, I made this while writing this month. Maybe I’ll post it to my IG. The words are part of the dedication I’m working on for Ashley Vargas.
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Covid Positive Tests
Covid Positive Tests

I just realized I haven’t posted since the last day of 2021. Between January 1 and 18, I wrote 6,217 new words which was just over my monthly goal of 6,000 words. So, I was having a good month, but then on the 19th, I woke up with a terrible sore throat, cough, aches, chills, and felt exhausted. I tested positive for Covid. I tested twice, because the result on the first antigen test I took appeared faint, but the second test also appeared faint. But since I was symptomatic, I figured they were correct positives. I missed three days of work, then worked from home, tested negative finally on February 1, but continued to work from home until February 7 because my boss didn’t want me coming in until I was symptom free. I stopped writing on January 19 and didn’t begin again until February 1.

Teams Japan and Finland
Teams Japan and Finland

I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic hockey. I was rooting for the women’s team from Japan, Smile Japan as they are known, but they were knocked out by Finland who after the game gave hugs to some of the Japanese players who were in tears and the whole thing nearly made me cry. Such is the beauty of the Olympics. Though I expect the US or Canada to win the gold medal, the compassion shown by the Finnish team now makes me hope they get the gold medal instead the bronze they seem to be accustomed to. I have a tendency to root for underdogs. Compassionate underdogs are even better.

Act III Notecards
Act III Notecards

But enough of that. This is my author blog. On Friday, February 11, I netted 1,759 new words and finished Chapter Twenty-Four. This means Act II is complete and I can finally move onward to Act III. Yesterday, I went to a different Starbucks than I usually write at and made notecards to help me nail down the order in which things need to happen from here until the end of the book. Some of it is flexible. I know what needs to happen, but the order isn’t always prescribed. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of notecards I made. The stack was thinner than I anticipated which is a relief because I had been worrying that Act III would be too long and thus possibly boring since it was all denouement. I’m now hoping I’ll have a full draft by the end of March.

So that’s what’s been going on with me. I hope things have been going well for you.

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Today is the last day of 2021 and I just finished writing for the day. I finished my rewrites on Chapter Twenty-One and Twenty-Two. I netted 8,406 words for December. More than usual, but much of that is due to winter break at my day job. Tomorrow, I plan to reread Eighteen through Twenty-Two, and then if satisfied, I’ll send them to my beta readers who haven’t received pages since April 30.

2021 Goodreads Reading Challenge
I completed my Goodreads Reading Challenge yesterday, with one day to spare. In 2022, I plan to reduce the number of books because there are some very long books I want to read including In Search of Lost Time.

After I finished Chapter Twenty-Two, I went on to write text that felt like a confession, with Orly telling her readers what she discovered these books are really about. It’s really a confession of ours. I don’t know if it will make it into the final draft, but I think my shrink will be glad that I’m writing about it because it may help me process my own suicidal feelings.  

Last night, I decided to remove the Soleil story from the book. Soleil is a diminutive finch Orly received among many other finches from Berthold. She was meant to parallel Orly amongst her coven, but as I near the end of the book, the payoff for it feels too on-the-nose. So even after I reach the final page of the full draft, I’ll have that to write out of the book. I’m not looking forward to it. Right now, my to do list of things to check before releasing the final draft is up to fifty-seven items.

I wrote the opening lines of this book on June 22, 2019. I didn’t think it would ever take me so long to write this book, but there were multiple long bouts of depression. I keep telling myself that it will come out in summer of 2022, but now I’m not even sure. I have to make sure there are no loose ends and I want it to be the best book it can be. Just writing about its release in this blog post I can feel my anxiety writing. I know I’ll release it, but I’m terrified.

At the same time, I’m afraid of finishing it but dreading it will never be finished.

I hope 2022 is a great year for you.  

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I made a lot of progress with my book since my last post. Starting on November 6, I began to write with some regularity again, for the first time since May 2. I ended up writing 8,825 words in November, which exceeded my monthly goal of 6,000 words for the first time since April.

I finished Chapter Eighteen and Nineteen and am nearly finished with Chapter Twenty. Two days ago, my total word count passed 80,000 words. It feels good to reach novel length.

I’m still dealing with thoughts of suicide but it feels more manageable than it had been thirty days ago. I wonder how much these thoughts have affected recent chapters. I wonder if Chapters Eighteen and Twenty are longer than they need to be as Orly and I are in our headspace so much. I’m not even sure if her/our thoughts and feelings will make sense to readers if this book sees its release.  

I don’t have much else to report other than I feel like I need to vomit because of something I ate. I’m drinking licorice root tea to help deal with it. I’m hoping to finish Chapter Twenty by end of day tomorrow, but I’m feeling disconnected from everything today, so I don’t know if I’ll get there.

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Vegan Corn Dogs
Vegan Corn Dogs

I finished writing the beginning of Chapter Eighteen, which begins the bridge between midpoint and climax of the book. This is always the hardest part of a story for me to write. Using handwritten notecards helped me organize it enough to get it done. Looking back, I feel like it shouldn’t have taken me so long to write so little (currently 1,138 words), but then I must remember depression and then it makes sense even though it’s still disappointing.

Last week I waited on hold with a suicide prevention chat line for twenty minutes before I gave up and logged out. I wanted to talk to someone, and I know talking about suicide makes the few friends I discuss it with sad and sometimes tearful, so I wanted to spare them.

I tried to be kind to myself over the weekend. I hung three paintings in my office. I drove to get the vegan corn dogs I’ve been craving. I drove on side streets aimlessly and skipped to songs I could sing to. I drank hot chocolate.

I had a list of things I wanted to talk to my psychologist about today, but she called out sick, so I’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

I’m glad I finished the beginning of that bridge. Going on from there should all come easier unless, of course, the depression…

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My best friend, Amirah, sent me a Facebook memory yesterday of something I had posted five years earlier. I was shocked when I read it. The post began with this sentence:

I’m trying very hard to love my book again.

Facebook MemoryI wrote that in 2016. I was talking about The Scribbled Victims. In my post on my author blog from May 13 of this year, I wrote this about Scribbles of the Empress:

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.

My memory, as it often does, failed me, and I see now, that that is not true. This experience of not loving my work-in-progress has happened before. I found proof of this while reading through posts on my personal blog from June 2016 and I found this post from June 6:

Blog Post June 6, 2016

Throughout that month, I wrote about feeling depressed and demoralized with my work-in-progress. I even posted about trying to immerse myself in beauty, looking for art to inspire me, just like I’m doing right now. (I’m even going to an art fair after I post this.)

Knowing that I’ve gone through this struggle before makes me hopeful, because I certainly got through it, for I finished writing The Scribbled Victims, and am still mostly happy with it today, and it led to Orly becoming such a big part of my life. I don’t remember how I got through it. (I didn’t even remember it happening.) Maybe it just passed. But if there were things I had done to come out of it and love my work-in-progress again, I can probably find clues by reading July, August, September, and so forth in my personal blog, until the book was released in February 2017.

I feel indebted to my BFF. Not just for sharing that Facebook memory with me, but because she has been there for me throughout this difficult period and understands how much it’s been hurting me.

Here’s to hope that I will be writing again soon and loving my work again.

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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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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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