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Most of us, at some point in our lives, have dreamed of working for ourselves. We sit in our office cubicle, or other equally dismal assigned work space, and wonder what it would be like to not have to answer to that asshole of a boss anymore, or sit next to that whining hypochondriac, or deal with the petty power plays of the supply clerk over the next set of copy paper requests. We imagine how nice it would be to set our own schedule as we tool away at our dream job training unicorns to tap dance. Or maybe something equally a fantasy, like being a writer.
I certainly entertained those thoughts. And when the day came that my husband agreed I could give up the (fruitless two year, hundreds of resumes sent) job hunt and stay at home to give my writing a full-time chance, I was giddy with joy. FINALLY, I could live the life I wanted. All those stories that had been dancing around my head, all those characters demanding to be released, could actually see the light of day. No more alarms, no more power suits, no more office bullshit, and no more disorganized bosses. I stopped being a Certified Administrative Professional, and became a WRITER.
Yeah, you can stop laughing now…

 

lol-cat

I love the smell of folly first thing in the morning…

 

My grand plan was to get up every day when I felt like it, write for a few hours, have lunch, piddle around the housework, fix dinner for the hubby, and finish off the day with a few more hours of writing. I went and bought myself some spiffy writing software (Scrivener is awesome!)*, a cool electronic pad that captures hand-writing (Wacom is awesome!)*, and smooth heavy-bond paper for my fountain pens (Levenger is awesome!)*. I fussed over how my desk should be laid out, whether I should go for time or word count, listen to music or not, have the TV on or not, and about a bazillion other silly things that really didn’t matter but did because I’m a little obsessive/compulsive that way.

In the beginning, I actually did get some stuff accomplished. I (slowly) finished a novel and some short stories, made pretty regular entries here at this old dump of a blog, and did at least two articles a week for an on-line “news” site called Examiner.com, now defunct. I did that gig mainly to get myself back into writing shape, knowing I wouldn’t make a living off it, and left well before their fall. I have made queries and submissions for both the novel and stories, essentially to a large field of crickets, it seems, given the non-responses I’ve received. And I started a second novel. So, in the grand scheme of things, maybe it doesn’t seem all that bad.

Appearances are definitely deceiving.

That early enthusiasm soon fell victim to my own lack of urgency. When I don’t HAVE to get up at a certain time, I don’t. In fact, I’m very cat-like in that regard. I’ll take a nap just about anytime. And when I say nap, I mean at least four hours of unconsciousness cuddled with the actual cats in a cool, dark room. And being naturally a night person, night was when I was awake. I’d see my husband off to work in the morning and promptly head off to the vault for my day’s snooze.

And not being responsible to anyone else’s agenda, when I was awake I wasn’t nearly as productive as I could have been. Hey, look! There’s a game I haven’t played in a long time. Maybe I should make something out of this fabric I’ve had for the last twenty years. Wow, I sure do have a lot of books I need to read – better get started. It’s amazing how fast time disappears when you’re not accountable.

Then came a couple scary events involving hospitals, bill collectors, and mortgage companies. The depression seemed to envelope me whole and what little productivity I’d managed rapidly fell off into nothing. Soon it was mostly sleeping and computer games, because nothing really matters, least of all me. Hiding is what I seem to do best. It’s so easy to put things off when there are no hard deadlines, no people to be responsible to, and no requirements beyond feeding the cats and the husband. And that little dark cave in my mind that began as a refuge, slowly transformed into a prison…

 

Wearing all black

But only until they come up with something darker…

 

I follow several other writers – a couple best-selling/award winners, and a few crawling up the ranks – all of whom are further along their journeys than I. Somewhere along the line, I began dissecting their schedules (if they didn’t outright tell their readers). They all blog more frequently than I, and post on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram numerous times a week. They usually write, or are at least engaged in some aspect surrounding writing, like editing or marketing, everyday. The up-and-comers send out dozens of queries and/or submissions a month, while the established pen mavens have to figure out how to balance all those offers with their already tight schedules. They talk about having to pay the mortgage, dealing with children interrupting their writing time, and imposter syndrome. They are going through all the same issues I am, but they have managed to keep the keystrokes active. They press through even on those days when it seems that writing is more a chore and less the passion they thought it would be.

They do it because they HAVE to, not just because they want to. They are beholding to their families, their editors, their readers, and any number of others involved in the chain of production from inception to publication. Don’t get me wrong: they still love what they do. But like with any career, once it starts rolling, there are other people to think of, and you’d best not let them down.

And that’s what I finally realized I’ve done. This writing thing isn’t just about me. My husband is carrying the household expenses on his shoulders while I piss away my day killing zombies. My family and friends support me and offer encouragement, despite me sleeping curled up with the cats all afternoon. There are even people who aren’t any of the above that read this blog regularly – or at least as regularly as my erratic entries allow – and still follow me regardless.

And that’s why self-motivation is an oxymoron. It doesn’t exist for me. I don’t give a crap for myself, so it doesn’t matter if things get done or not. You can’t motivate someone who doesn’t care. But I’m not operating in a bubble. I know that now. And I just can’t stand to let others down.

So things are going to change. Even if it means using that damn alarm again…

 

 

*   Disclaimer: I have received no monetary sponsorship for these claims. I really do think they’re awesome and use them often!

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Sleep is a wonderful thing, as long as you can get some. Supposedly, as we get older we tend to need less sleep, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for me. I’m still off-line for that nine to ten hours a shot that I was back in high school. Longer if I’m having a bad headache day. Which seems to be all the time anymore.

I’ve made several attempts over these last few “self” employed years to get on a consistent daytime schedule. My husband is up at the butt-crack of dawn to head off to his bruiser of a job and it just seems reasonable that his dutiful wife cleave to the same schedule so she can be the domestic goddess and have dinner waiting for him when he arrives home.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

While most nights I do cook dinner – it does seem a fair exchange since he’s been out dealing with the nutjobs known as humans – I’m hardly the stereotypical housewife. Even that word – housewife – is an archaic annoyance to my ear. Yes, I handle the dishes and the laundry. Occasionally I even vacuum and dust. But that’s because I’m the one at home, not because I’m the woman. If our positions were reversed, my husband would be wearing the frilly maid’s outfit carrying the feather duster when I came in from the cold, cruel world.

Sorry. You probably didn’t want to see that.

Anyway, these last few months have been challenging in the sleep department. Though I have the new prescription for the post-detached retina vision, we haven’t had the money to get the new glasses. Every time we turn around it seems something else more important comes along to demand what few cents we have. You may think that getting new glasses is pretty important, and in the general scheme of things, you’re right. But when the choice is new glasses or fuel for the only vehicle that gets my husband back and forth to work, or new glasses vs. utility bills, well, you can probably understand why I’m still sitting here with an eyestrain headache.

Being a life-long migraine sufferer, my body has basically one response to any kind of head pain: shut down. I escape into something resembling sleep. But it’s erratic. I’ll be down for three or four hours, then up for anything from two to twelve hours, then down for twelve hours and up for two, down for four, up for six, etc., etc. Really hard to maintain any kind of schedule when you’re fine for a couple hours and then get hit by that dart from the big game hunter.

And even when I am “sleeping” I’ll wake up several times for various reasons, or no reason at all, so it never seems like I’m getting a full straight batch of time. Or I have really intense, detailed, bizarre dreams: the zombie apocalypse happens while my husband and I are at one of our historical events, and I’m stuffing loads of embroidery supplies into my back pack while my cats sit on my shoulders or run around my feet and my husband is loading ammo into something that looks like a cross between a bow and a sub-machine gun; aliens have attacked and I’m leading the resistance and trying to figure out how to escape from the skyscraper we’re trapped in that is now morphing into an old Victorian mansion that has money stuffed in the cushions of the couch but we can’t leave now because the party isn’t done and I have to find my husband; I’ve suddenly manifested superpowers but have to take a running jump to fly like Ralph in The Greatest American Hero and my telekinesis blows out the headlamps of a guy I’m mad at but then the dragons are trying to shoot me down and I land in a refugee camp where I’m looking for a bathroom but the only one I can find has its porcelain thrones at the ends of the arms of one of those spinning octopus carnival rides.

Yes, I’m well aware that I need professional counseling…

If it’s any consolation, it’s not any better when I’m awake. That’s why I’m a writer. And even though I have done very little with my current projects as far as putting things into words on the computer, I’ve actually accomplished quite a bit of problem solving for those projects. There are many times when I wake up and can’t get back to sleep because my brain is in overdrive. I’ve cleared up a couple issues I had with several of the characters in my current novel, which has also helped me figure out more of where that monster is going. It’ll mean a significant re-write of the 60K words I’ve already done, but, hey, I got nothing but time, right? And I’ve doodled with several short story ideas for the collection I’ve talked about e-publishing, which has given me an overall theme for it as well. I’m feeling pretty good about where I’m going with both projects, even if I’m way behind my original time line.

And so what if my sleep schedule doesn’t match everybody else’s? The only person I’m beholding to is my husband, and I make sure he’s taken care of. The only other thing I need to be concerned about is that I’m as productive as possible while I’m conscious, given the visual limitations I’m dealing with right now.

I spent a lifetime trying to do things the way other people told me they should be done, and it just didn’t work, and I just wasn’t happy. Now that I’m doing things my way, for me, I’m experiencing a lot more satisfaction with my life. So I guess the whole point of this meandering rant is, it’s your life, find what works for you.

And what works for me right now is another nap…

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Busy Signal

Not in Service

Photo_052410_002

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I’ve never been very good doing stuff just for me. I’ve always had to have some outside force, like my parents or teachers, to really keep me motivated to hit a goal. That’s the little kid in me still striving for approval. I’ll do whatever it is for them, but forget doing it just for myself, because I’m not worth it. That’s the sinister secret of depression. Too many people hear “depression” and expect you to be crying your eyeballs out for no known reason, but the truth is most of the time depression is just a blanket of doubt shrouding your every being, weighing you down and nit-picking your self worth to death.

The last few months I’ve really let the depression have way too much control over me. When you’re constantly fighting a chronic condition, there come times when you just don’t have the energy to make even the slightest protest against it, and that’s where I’ve been. I just didn’t care anymore, because nothing mattered and the blackness would continue without end until my urn corroded into dust on some mantel somewhere. I was just so tired. I’m still so tired. But I had a brief moment of clarity a couple weeks ago, during which I finally connected to the notion that I’m a writer. Yeah, I’ve called myself that for a long time, but I was all talk and very little do. I may still be, but I’ve decided maybe it’s time to try some new things and see if I can shake something loose.

For a number of years now I’ve been on what I consider to be my natural circadian rhythm – sleeping during the day and up at night. I’ve always preferred the night, mainly because it’s usually quieter, cooler and not so eye-throbbing bright. I’ve always felt I’ve done my best creative work at night. But in looking back, I’ve learned that I’m not necessarily at my optimal productive capacity. See, when you don’t’ HAVE to be somewhere at any specific time, when there is no one expecting or demanding anything of you, it’s very easy to keep putting things off. Nah, I don’t feel like it – I’ll do that tomorrow. What’s the point in getting dressed? I’m not going anywhere. It’s cool, and dark and safe in here – I’ll just stay in bed. Let me tell you right now – it’s a trap.

Getting into/staying in a regular routine is a vital part of combating depression[1]. And while my “routine” was sort of regular as far as when I slept and ate, there wasn’t a whole lot else to it. During a discussion with my ever-patient and supportive husband, two things came to light: 1) writing was the last thing I was doing in my “day”, and 2) my husband didn’t like sleeping alone. I had so isolated myself in my supposed quest for the creative muse that the two things most important to me were, in reality, on the back shelf. I was not living up to my half of the bargain made when we decided I was going to stay home and try life as a word hack. And that’s when it really hit home that I wasn’t doing this just for me, but for both of us.

So I’ve made a major scheduling change. I’ve flipped back to a daytime existence. My alarm (yes, I’m actually using it) is now set for 8:00am. The morning routine is now the same as when I was working for someone else, minus the power suits. And after breakfast I head to the office and get to writing. That is now the FIRST thing I do in the day. That is now my JOB. Monday is my blog and any business related writing things (queries, submissions, research, etc.). Tuesday is short fiction day, whether I like it or not. The rest of the week is scratching out the latest novel. Weekends tend to be a crapshoot because the husband is home and a lot of the household errands end up being done then, but sometimes words get snuck onto computer pages here and there.

I do the household chores and make dinner beginning in late afternoon, and then spend some rare conscious moments with that big lug I agreed to live with the rest of my life. A couple hours are spent watching TV and working on needlework or weaving projects, and occasionally I end the night off with killing a few things on a computer game. Then I go to bed. With my husband. Snoring and farting and blanket wrangling aside (he puts up with so much from me), it’s been really nice feeling him next to me. Research has indicated that sleeping with your partner has some positive health benefits,[2] and that certainly can’t hurt either.

So here I go into the second week of this change. It’ll be a few weeks more before it settles in. I’m still battling the urge to sleep in the day (that bright thing in the sky – it burns the Precious!), mainly because my nighttime sleep isn’t regular yet. But I’ve already written more in this last week than I did the two months previous. Sadly, not really saying much, but that too will come with regularity. At least, I hope so. Wish me luck.

PS: I’ve made some changes on my site, adding a page where I’ll be sharing my short stories. Check it out and let me know what you think. https://ckendsley.wordpress.com/

© Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

[1] “Lifestyle Tips for Treatment-Resistant Depression”

[2] “The Powerful Benefits of Sleeping Together”

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Southern California had another of its standard issue wake up calls this morning: a 4.4 earthquake that hit about 6:25am local time. I didn’t notice it myself, partly because we’re about eighty miles from the reported epicenter, but mostly because I was stone cold asleep at the time. Or maybe I’ve just lived in SoCal too long and have become way too blasé about the ground rumbling beneath my feet. Whatever the reason, it did make me think that maybe it is time to shake things up around here, just not in the same way Mother Nature may have in mind.

I started this blog in October of 2009 (“The Middle Ages ain’t what they used to be…”). It was meant to be a release valve and a way to get my writing chops back into some semblance of order. I never really thought about anybody else paying attention to what I might have to say. I didn’t even expect my own family to bother, since they had heard me mumble so much over the years about wanting to be a writer, and watched me never really do anything about it. But not only did my family start following me, and then friends, but over the months so did a wondrous select few of strangers from across the planet. While my subscribers are not nearly approaching the numbers many other Internet sites and blogs claim, I am still agog.

And since this will be my 100th entry, I thought it appropriate to open things up to review. I’m not one for change simply for change’s sake, but I do believe that you have to periodically examine the who, what, where, why and how’s of your life to make sure things are still on track. To help me out with that evaluation, I’d like your honest opinions, constructive criticisms and heartfelt pleas for sanity (not that the latter will really do you any good…). Below are some questions I have to get you started, but feel free to riff on the theme.

  1)        Why did you subscribe to my blog?

  2)        If you’re not a subscriber, why the hell not???

  3)        Do you read every entry? Why/Why Not?

  4)        Is it really true what they say about men with big feet?

  5)        What do you like most/least about what I do here?

  6)        What do you think about the layout?

  7)        Should I include a picture of me?

  8)        What do you want to see more/less of?

  9)        Should I organize entries into categories?

10)        Was Flight MH370 taken by aliens or J.J. Abrams?

11)         Should I send a thank you to every new subscriber? (I’m not exactly clear on a lot of Netiquette issues, so help is really needed in this area.)

12)         Is there a topic I haven’t touched on that you would like me to?

13)         Is there a topic I’ve ranted too much about?

14)         Should the blog become more focused on a particular topic? (i.e., just writing, or mental health, or middle-age, etc.)

15)         What’s your favorite color?

16)         Should I even keep doing this blog?

Okay, let me have it. And thanks. I think…

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Humans are arrogant sons-of-bitches – as individuals, in our teams, our tribes, our cultures, our countries, as an entire planet. We think we know everything and we are the end all and be all of the whole universe. We, of course, couldn’t be more wrong. But that doesn’t stop some of us from shouting our arrogance from the mountaintops. And usually it’s the stupidest among us shouting the loudest.

I recently read an article shared on Facebook by two friends I consider polar opposites in most of their political views. That fact alone was enough for me to hit the link and see for myself what had spurred these two into such action. The article is entitled “The Death of Expertise,” written by Tom Nichols for the Federalist. You can check it out for yourself here. It really struck me. It hit on a point that I have witnessed and worried about for some time. Mr. Nichols expresses the concept much more eloquently than I, but the gist is that our society has rejected giving weight to the educated opinions of experts (read: scientists and the like) and declared all opinions equal, regardless of actual facts. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, all opinions are not created equal. And freedom to have your opinion doesn’t equate to freedom from consequences as a result of your opinion.

I have directly experienced this problem. I have a degree in music education from one of the best music universities in the nation. I was trained to be an instrumental music teacher, and, as such, can play any standard band or orchestra instrument at least at the basic level. I also know music history, theory, composition and conducting. I started noodling on the piano at two, playing tunes by ear, and later spent a good many years actually making money as a performer. So, it could be considered that I am an “expert” in music.

A friend of mine, who has exactly none of my experience or education, declared one day during a conversation on music that the violin and the fiddle were two different instruments. When I informed him that they were indeed the same instrument, just played differently, he proceeded to argue the point with me for the next hour. He insisted that I was wrong in my opinion. He would not accept my expertise in the field of music as being valid because he had heard the differences, and there just wasn’t any way possible they could be the same instrument. He had made up his mind and that trumped all my years of experience (three of which were actually solely on violin)[1].

This is, sadly, a common problem with humans. As Mr. Nichols states in his article:

“…it’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, which says, in sum, that the dumber you are, the more confident you are that you’re not actually dumb. And when you get invested in being aggressively dumb…well, the last thing you want to encounter are experts who disagree with you, and so you dismiss them in order to maintain your unreasonably high opinion of yourself.”

Sound familiar? Political pundits seem to fall into this more than most, but any one of us can probably point to several people within our circles of relationships that fit the definition to a tee. If they take Stephen Colbert seriously, instead of recognizing his entire act is sarcasm, then they might have a problem. Opinion and fact are two entirely different animals, but our polarized political environment here in the US has blurred the lines beyond recognition.

As a writer, – and, more specifically, a science fiction writer – I do my best to support my wacky future ideas on actual science. That means I do a lot of research. That research depends not on opinion but on fact. Let’s look at that word – fact – for a minute. Dictionary.com defines fact thusly:

1.  something that actually exists; reality; truth

2.  something known to exist or to have happened

3.  a truth known by actual experience or observation; something known to be true

4.  something said to be true or supposed to have happened

Facts are determined by observation, experience, empirical testing and supported by evidence. It is a fact that my hair is now mostly silver instead of brunette. It is opinion that the silver is prettier than the brunette. You can support the former statement by direct observation of my hair, while the latter can vary from person to person.

But facts long accepted by the majority are now suddenly under attack by right wing extremists. Science has been declared so much hokum developed only to attack the truth as determined by a book of allegories written thousands of years ago. And yes, there are those in the scientific fields that are as equally convinced science is the only true path. The mentality is “there can be only one,” a declaration I find interesting because I don’t believe the two have to be mutually exclusive. Science answers questions of the real world, while theology serves to answer the questions of spirituality and faith. They are two sides of the same coin. Science hasn’t answered everything yet, so we must depend on faith for the rest.

This is where that human arrogance comes in. Each of us is convinced, in our own little worlds, that we are absolutely right, we know everything, and everyone else is an idiot. Sorry, folks, but that’s not the case. We are barely motes in the grand scheme of the universe. Yes, we’ve mapped the human genome, but we still have no idea what most of it does or how which part relates/affects/negates others. We’ve traveled to the moon and by remote to Mars, and yet we still haven’t figured out how to get off oil and not pollute the only place we have to live.

For us to progress as individuals and as a species we must be open to possibilities. Steadfastly holding on to opinions that have no support in facts stifles growth. Declaring an opinion and then refusing to accept the consequences such opinion might bring, is an ignorant close-minded approach to the world.  Real democracy requires real dialogue, and real dialogue requires open minds. We can’t be afraid to have our ideas challenged. We must encourage debate, and we must have that debate supported by facts, not ideological fantasies.

Most importantly, we need to get over ourselves and accept the fact we might be wrong.

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.


[1] For the record, violin and fiddle are physically one and the same, and Diffen.com has a nice explanation for you.

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I was watching television the other day and a commercial came on that asked people what they would do if they didn’t have to worry about money and could do anything they wanted. The first answer was “be a writer.” It was a common answer, too. I have dozens of friends and acquaintances that also have that dream, to be a writer, but only a handful of them are actually working toward that end. A select few are even making money at it. Not great gobs, mind you. People like Stephen King and J.K. Rowling are freaks in the literary world. The rest of us schlubs just plunk away as best we can, hoping we can scrape enough words together to convince someone, somewhere, to pay us a few pence, just so we can say we really are professional writers.

What is it about writing that makes so many people think they can do it? I made the mistake of asking my husband (he who has also mentioned he wants to write) that question, and he just sent it back to me:

Him:   Well, why do YOU think you can write?

Me:      Because I think I’m pretty good at it. And people have told me I’m pretty good at it. And, mainly, because I can’t NOT write.

Him:   You’re not writing all the time.

Me:      *frustrated spiral further into depression*

He’s right: I’m terrible at following my own advice. Even when I actually sit down at the computer and open up my novel, I keep finding other things to do. Like pet the cat, check Facebook, watch kitteh videos on YouTube, balance the checkbook. You get the idea. I have a hard time getting started, which is confusing to me because nearly every waking hour is spent with those characters and their problems swirling around in my head. But when it comes time to put it all down in writing, I’m a procrastinator extraordinaire.

Last week I mentioned that I was going to unofficially participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo by working on my novel at the same pace required of actual participants. Those of you who are successfully on track at this point are probably up to about 8,000 words. I’m at just under 2,500. That means I’m averaging 500 words a day. And it takes me two to four hours to do that. I probably shouldn’t admit that given I’m shopping around my first novel and some potential agent or publisher could see this and wonder if I’ll be able to get them a second book before I die of old age. Sorry, no guarantees. Though my family is pretty long-lived, so chances are good…

But the question is still unanswered: why does everybody want to write? There’s a mystique to writing that seems to draw the fantasies of untold numbers. Work at home, on your own schedule, drinking a cup of tea while gazing out onto a flock of ducks floating across a misty pond, etc., etc. The masses seem to think it’s a life of leisure that allows you to rake in the money by selling a few books. If only!

We, of course, know the truth behind that myth. The vast majority of people out there who think they can write are actually hacks just putting words together to fill space. You can’t spend more than a few minutes on the Internet without coming across them. Bad spelling, terrible grammar, typos, and barely coherent thoughts expressed in a style equivalent to the average fifth grader. For all its wonders, for all the opportunities it has allowed writers with its immense demand for content, the Internet has actually proven to be the bane of good writing.

The truth is, writing is fucking hard work. It’s more than just knowing the rules. It’s more than just active vs. passive voice, why first person point of view works for some stories and not for others, or how many different ways you can have your character talk, speak, blurt, demand, exclaim, shout…

Writing – REAL writing – is the ability to tap into something unexplainable, and then share that with the world. Real writing is an art, which sucks the reader into another time and place and allows them to experience something amazing and profound and heart breaking. Real writing is an intangible gift and should not be taken lightly.

Most of those people we know who claim they want to be writers will never do anything more than Twitter posts about their lunch. Which is already more than they should, but that’s just my inner snark coming out. Some of those people may actually learn to be competent with words. Plenty of people can write well. They are good craftsmen, and can be entertaining, educational and even thought provoking. But very few people are writers. There’s only one Stephen King for a reason.

I’m no Stephen King, but I do think I have something worth sharing, and that’s why I keep doing this. I hope I’m not one of those delusional wanna-be’s, the kind you see in the first few weeks of reality show competitions like America’s Got Talent who are CONVINCED they are the ultimate gift to entertainment, only to be the gawd-awful train wreck of train wrecks. Maybe by being worried about that means I’m not. Sort of like you’re not really crazy if you’re worried about being crazy, so then I must be a writer if I’m worried about not being one. Or something like that.

Even when I’m distracted by other things, dealing with depression, procrastinating my way through the days, and getting rejection after rejection, writing haunts me. I HAVE to do it. I come back to it time after time, day after day, because I can’t NOT. It is an obsession, an addiction, my lifeblood. Maybe that makes me crazy after all.

But it also makes me a writer.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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