Okay, guys. Here goes nothing. This could get long – I’m a rambler. I apologise in advance! Last Thursday, while scrolling through the anonymous confessions on the Indie Authors and Book Blogs Facebook page as I do every week, I came across a confession that really resonated with me. So much so, that I replied (which I rarely do because I’m about as good at giving advice as I am at multiple backflips. Or a single backflip. Or getting up off my back without a struggle, whatever.) That confession also prompted this long overdue post.
In short, the anonymous author confessed that after being sick they no longer felt they were in the same headspace as their readers and couldn’t face writing what was expected of them any longer. They described themselves as ‘broken’.
I was ‘broken’, too. That was exactly how I would describe myself to my husband or close friends when I couldn’t write anymore. Now, I must move on from that confession for a while because I don’t know the author or their situation. I only know the few words shared within it reminded me of my situation. A situation I often find myself in, and one I’ve never talked about publicly before. Why now? I don’t really know. I’ve felt for a long time that readers who wait patiently for my comeback every time I ‘disappear’ deserve an explanation, but I get too nervous and ‘return’ like nothing’s happened. Now, I also feel those who are waiting for more MM deserve an answer, same as those who are hoping for sequels.
Or, maybe I’m just procrastinating! I do that a lot.
I was broken. I am broken. There’s a line in one of my books, which happens to be called Broken for this reason, that describes the way I see my brain perfectly.
“Some people might say I have a screw loose in my brain, but I think that screw is missing altogether. It can’t be tightened. I can’t be fixed. It was never there to begin with.” ~ James
Ah, James Holden. I love that guy. I admire his strength and courage. I love him despite his ‘missing screw’ and I’m rooting for him every step of the way. James Holden is me…minus the bursting bank account, arrogance, and rocking bod. So many parts of that book are actual memories, feelings and experiences I’ve had. And I love him for them…yet not myself. I’m proud of James, yet in reality my missing screw does my bloody head in.
Like James, I was born without that screw. It affected me in nursery, all the way through school, and continues to be a pain in my arse through adulthood. Also like James, I was first prescribed antidepressants by a psychiatrist at age eleven, I’ve had talking therapy (eventually) and been told all the tricks and coping mechanisms of the trade…but nothing and nobody can find that damn screw! Now, at thirty-four years old, I’ve stopped hoping they will, because I realised while I was writing Broken that it was never there…
And that’s okay. That’s just me. My brain likes to torment me in a thousand different ways. It overthinks everything. It likes to bring up awkward conversations from twenty-five years ago and make me think of all the other ways it could have gone. It wonders what if a million times a day. It makes me self-conscious. It doesn’t like change, new places or situations. It makes me rehearse possible conversations over and over before I’ve even met someone because otherwise I’ll sound stupid, or so it tells me. It makes me look at groups of friends having fun in our wonderful book world and wonder what I need to do to be part of that, or if I’m capable. Of course I’m not, it says. If I tried, I’d look desperate. They have their friends. Their fun friends. They don’t need the socially awkward saddo with the missing screw. My brain keeps me at home a lot.
It makes me a great actor too, this brain of mine. You’d never know if I’d just spent the day in the dark with the curtains closed, wishing I could be this, or that, or simply not thinking at all just by talking to me. You’d never know if I was feeling stupid standing right in front of you, or wondering if I’m doing the whole socialising thing ‘right’. You wouldn’t be able to tell if I didn’t want to be there, if my heart was racing, if I wanted to cry, if I knew inside the second I was alone I would slump into a heap and break down. You wouldn’t know, because my brain could win me an academy award. You don’t tell people this shit. It’s stupid, it says. You smile. You laugh. You hide it.
You don’t want strangers to think you’re stupid, and you don’t want those close to you to worry.
Smile. Laugh. Fake it.
I listen to it, because ‘it’ is me. It’s always been me. The same thoughts have been tumbling around in my mind since I was three years old. So I listen and I act. I’m good at acting…until I’m not. Until it’s too much. Then…I disappear. I don’t do talking. I can’t. And at that point I can’t pretend anymore either, so away I go. I withdraw. I abandon social media, just like that. I abandon my readers and, sometimes, friends with no explanation. It’s unfair. It’s unprofessional. It’s selfish. But… you don’t tell people this shit. So this broken brain of mine blocks everyone and everything out. You can deal with them later…eventually…maybe… Then later comes, and it’s been so long it would be stupid to reply now. What would you say? You ignored them. They cared and you ignored them.
I keep hiding, refusing to think of them, keep running away. Metaphorically, of course. I don’t run. Ever. I’d consider it for Ryan Reynolds but unless he leaves Blake Lively, nuh uh. A slow walk is all you’ll get from me.
So, that’s where I go. Nowhere. Here. Trapped. This seems like a great time to thank every person who’s ever gotten in touch to say they’ve noticed I haven’t been around, or to ask if I’m okay, or who’s messaged one of my close friends to check up on me. To those that still do that even when I don’t reply…God, I love you. I appreciate you. My missing screw isn’t an excuse. I don’t deserve your special treatment or consideration, nor am I asking for it. But some of you give it anyway…and a word hasn’t been invented yet to describe how much that means to me.
I can thank you now because I’m not trapped today. I don’t need to hide, and I have no reason to act. Today, I’m good, and I have been for a few months. I’m on a roll, baby! See? It’s not as depressing as I’ve made out, living without a screw! I’m not a miserable old cow all the time. I may have been born with a broken brain, which is kinda shit, but I’m also one of the luckiest people in the world. I had a great childhood (when my tricky brain wasn’t playing games with me). I married the love of my life at seventeen years old. Some people have to wait years for that. Some never find it at all. I have four beautiful kids. A fantastic family – small yet close. The best parents in the world. I’m lucky enough to have a dream career which I’ve met my best and closest friends through…wait…lightbulb…I guess that’s proof I can make friends. Huh. Take that, brain. Fuck you. I’ve travelled to great places, seen great things. I find humour in everything. I’m good with words, so I like to think! I have so much to be thankful for, and I am. Truly. Life is great.
That doesn’t matter to my brain, of course. I don’t know when it will decide to play up again. I’d like to say if but I haven’t learned to be that hopeful yet. I imagine it’ll rear its ugly head, eventually. Out of the blue, for no reason at all other than to mess with me. It’s twisted like that, my brain with the missing screw. So I might have to act for a bit. Pretend. Disappear again. I might be miserable for a while. But I’ll come back. I always do. Sometimes quickly, sometimes not, but I always remember who’s in charge eventually. Me. I’m the strongest. Who needs a poxy screw? Not me. I’ve done just fine, created a wonderful life for myself and my family without one.
Fuck you, missing screw.
This brings me back to that confession I started with. (I’m almost done, I promise! If you’ve made it this far, I admire your tenacity! Thanks for sticking with me!) It wasn’t just the broken part that struck a chord with me, but also the fact the anonymous author’s creative mind had toppled in a completely different direction than what their readers were used to. Mine did this recently too, during my last ‘disappearance’. It’s not unusual for me to be unable to write when I’m turned into Mrs Miserable from Anxietyville. This time, however, the talent wasn’t coming back. The urge did. I wanted to write. I needed to. For the readers who were waiting, and for myself. I love what I do. Like, love it so much I can’t actually believe it’s a real job that people get paid for! But I couldn’t do it anymore. Dammit! I’d write a couple of pages and delete them. Start reading for inspiration, get bored and give up. Write. Delete. Read. Give up. Rinse and repeat, all the while knowing how much I was letting readers down who were waiting for sequels and new books…or even for me to simply talk to them. I was broken in a different way, now. My inner author had broken…and there was no screw to fix that either.
So I stopped trying. For almost a year, I didn’t write a single word. Emails would come through, some praising my books, others asking when the next one was coming, some from friends or people wondering if I was okay, and each one would weigh me down a little further with guilt. And frustration with my broken brain. I ignored them. Blocked them out. More guilt. More frustration. You ignored them. They cared enough to reach out and you ignored them. Selfish.
As always, eventually, something began to change. Maybe the medication works. Maybe my brain gets bored of tormenting me and needs a holiday. Maybe I get bored of giving into the bloody thing. Whatever the reason, my determination started to filter back in. The trouble was every unfinished story I opened took me back there. Every character I’d brought to life in that time had become tainted. I’d start writing, but I didn’t love it anymore. It became so difficult, I couldn’t even remember why I ever loved it.
And there was my answer. What made me want to write? Reading! Scrolling all the way back to the beginning of my Kindle, I started re-reading all the books that made me fall in love with romance all those years ago. Hallelujah, I’d been saved! It didn’t take long for me to open a fresh Word doc., and from there the words poured from my fingers faster than my brain could keep up. My passion was back. My drive and love for this wonderful job! Fuck you, missing screw. I kept it to myself until it was almost finished…just in case. This damn brain with the missing screw is unpredictable. I’ve announced things before only for my brain to say hahahaha, let’s make you look stupid! Not this time though. This time, I was on frigging fire.
Slight problem – it wasn’t MM romance, the genre which I’m known for. The genre which my readers love and have allowed me to have great success in that I’ll be forever grateful for. The genre everyone expected me to return to. But…I loved this new book. It took me back to that world I fell in love with in the beginning. Writing was new and exciting again, and nothing about it took me back to that place. And that, my friends, is how Goodbye, Kate was born, and why the characters of Kate and Lincoln will hold an extra special place in my heart forever. Perhaps it wasn’t the best business decision, given that I’m effectively a newbie author again in this new genre – time will tell – but it was the best me decision and one I’m sticking with for now. To the readers who have continued to follow me in this new direction…thank you doesn’t seem enough. You’re allowing me to love what I do again. You’re fuelling my imagination again. You mean the world to me, even when I can’t show it.
As for MM? I owe so much to this genre. I would never leave it. I love the stories, the people, the message the whole community sends. For now, it’s simply on hold while I work out these new MF stories. I can’t give you a timeframe. My tricky brain is in charge of that stuff! I do hope you’ll wait for me to get back, if not, I get it. There are lots of authors who need (and deserve!) your love and attention.
To anyone I’ve lost touch with, anyone I’ve never got back to, I’m sorry. Deeply. To everyone who sticks by me, thank you. Truly. I care. I’ve always cared. I always will care.
If you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, firstly it means I was brave enough to hit publish (as I sit here writing it, I’m undecided!), and secondly, it means you’re frigging awesome. Thank you! Oh, and this isn’t a sympathy post, though donations of chocolate and strippers are always appreciated. 😉 I simply had a crazy idea that I might feel better if I finally wrote it all down. And do you know what? I do. Next year I’m attending two signing events that I used to dream about getting invited to at the start of my career. Will I be anxious? Oh, hell yes! Will my brain tell me I can’t do it? You can bet your arse it will. Am I going to listen to it? Not a FRIGGING chance. I’m determined. And that’s kind of what this post is about too. I’m putting myself out there so I won’t need to hide anymore. No more excuses. I am the fun, sarcastic, upbeat person you see on social media. I’m also a bit of a nutjob with major anxiety, depression, and all kinds of social/new situation phobias. Now you know, I don’t need to keep away? Right!
Fuck you, missing screw.