Monday, December 7, 2015

Two Steps Back and One Baby Step Forward

Saving old drafts is an important part of the writing process, as is accepting the fact that sometimes life can take you down the wrong editing path.  I had to learn this hard lesson in the past few months when I hit a few unexpected challenges.

My daughter was born in September.  The Centernia sequel, The Crimson Mage was completed in the weeks prior to her arrival.  I was pleased that I was on track to release the book by the end of the year.  I figured I had plenty of time finish editing it, run it by my trusted circle of proofreaders, and then send it to the copyeditor.  It seemed that the book would be out by December.

People had cautioned that the baby would send a wrench into my plans, but I generally try to ignore naysayers and steam (or stumble) through life.  In my mind I had a perfect plan to keep working once my girl arrived:  While she napped, I would edit and write.  If sleep deprivation became awful, I would switch to formula and shift half the overnight feeds to my husband.  Laundry? Disposable diapers!  Food? Wegmans pre-made meals and paper plates. All problems solved.

I was so ready to own this baby thing.

And then my daughter was born.  She was perfectly healthy, kicking and crying.

Somewhere between the hospital and home, I discovered there's a part of the postpartum recovery process that's glossed over.  It was a situation I hadn't planned for, and something that couldn't be thwarted by throwing money at it.

I had known that some mothers suffer from postpartum depression, but no one really mentioned that it could happen to me.  Neither did anyone tell me that it comes packaged under two names. First, there are the 'baby blues', the sadness that happens to seventy-five percent of new moms. If the baby blues don't go away after a few weeks, you're given a 10 question written quiz, (Edinburgh Post Natal Depression Scale). Failing the quiz means you're labeled with postpartum depression and offered pills.

In the days following my daughter's arrival, nothing seemed right. I was particularly hit by anything that seemed to signify the passage of time.  The baby meant that I was a parent, which turned my parents into grandparents, which meant EVERYONE IS OLD. I was convinced this cute tiny creature would just turn into a teenager and leave me, I would be sad and miserable and lonely for the rest of my life, I was going to die ANY MOMENT, and all life is tragedy.

None of this is rational, but it's how I felt.

I tried to sing lullabies to my baby, the ones I had known as a kid.  Five words in and tears streamed down my face.

I saw a Jeep Liberty in a parking lot that looked like my first car. I cried the entire drive home.

The most pathetic moment was when my husband pointed out that the tree in our front yard was changing to a pretty color.  I was instantly a blubbering, sobbing mess.

What do my baby woes have to do with Centernia?  In a post-natal frenzy while crying over autumn leaves, I ripped apart The Crimson Mage.   I took out chapters, tried to restructure the plot and change the character focus.  I started hating Jessica, jealous of her teenage freedom.  I wanted to snuff out Nico with the end of a pencil and save her from any possible marriage and babies and miserable loneliness.  Jessica should stay home and be in high school forever because that's where I wanted to be.

The novel became barely recognizable and I was convinced I was a failure at everything, including my career, my friends, my marriage and my family.  Life was pointless and terrifying.  I would crawl under a blanket and lament every life choice from living in Rochester, (which I had been happily doing for twelve years), to adopting my fluffy black cat (because she was going to get sick and die ANY MOMENT).

After a while, the haze started to lift just a tiny bit.  It wasn't a single moment, but a gradual transition.  My baby started smiling more, I went horseback riding and doing conventions again. Work found me and I began to find my groove.

What happened to Centernia? Accidentally opening an old file for The Crimson Mage, I realized that I liked my old draft better, and was very grateful I made it a strict habit to save multiple versions of every work.  At the same time, it was disappointing to recognize that two months of editing was completely worthless.

I have accepted that time was lost, and I've also accepted the fact that I am still not quite my normal self.  As I fight to figure out my new normal, I try to take writing time each day after my daughter falls asleep.  In the quiet stillness, I revisit my old friends, anger against Jessica and Nico blown far away with the autumn leaves.   Life is moving forward again and I hope to reward the patience of everyone who has been waiting for the sequel.



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