Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Writer's Vertigo

by Cat Woods

Vertigo has been kicking my butt lately. If you've never had it, sacrifice to your god or goddess of choice so that you may never know what the perpetual bed-spins feel like. Seriously, a bout of vertigo is reminiscent of a bad college party, complete with praying to the porcelain god. This last time, it literally flattened me. I spent four, immovable days on my right side and another four feeling tipsy.

Vertigo is an imbalance in the ear that creates a state of dizziness. Usually it is momentary, lasting only about a minute or so, but sometimes it can knock you down for a day. Rarely, it may take a week to regain your footing.

You won't be surprised to know that writing has its own version of vertigo.

SIXTY SECOND VERTIGO: This comes out of nowhere. Walking down the stairs, driving a car, carrying your baby or frying burger for dinner. It is instantaneous--a black hole of time and space that sucker punches you. These are the rejections on the projects we were so certain were perfect. The email response by an agent or editor passing on our work. They throw us off balance and make us stumble in our confidence and passion.

With this kind of vertigo, a pause is all we need to recover. Stop walking. Stop driving. Put down the baby and step away from the stove. As much as these rejections sting, they are a mere blip on the continuum of your writing journey. A pebble in your path, if you will.

DIZZY FOR A DAY: This type of vertigo usually comes with vomiting. Lovely image, I know, but you writers will appreciate the injustice of it. The last time I had day-long vertigo was a snowy winter day. Dear Hubby was gone, school was cancelled and six inches of snow blanketed our three stall driveway. My plans for the day did not include hours on the tile floor in the hallway where I happened to land after smashing into a doorway I didn't see in my black fog. My poor daughter spent her "day off" of school exchanging ice cream pails every time I opened my eyes or turned my head.

I equate this vertigo to the feeling of queasiness we get when those near and dear to us don't quite climb on board with our recent writing projects. These are the rejections on a revise and resend. They are the scathing lukewarm comments by our critique partners/best friends/family. Or worse yet, their indifference. They are the first pass notes from our editors/agents asking us to change the MC, the plot and the setting. In short, they are debilitating to our egos and leave us breathless, wondering where to go from here. They are the detours set before us. They slow us down and ask that we expend more time and energy than we initially wanted to.

WEEK-LONG WEAKNESS: Not being able to stand, sit, turn your head, eat or open your eyes for days on end is psychologically debilitating. "When," you cry--literally--"will this end? Will the world ever stop spinning?"

It does, eventually. But re-entering the land of the living is a tentative endeavor at best. Every move you make is slow and filled with trepidation. You wonder when you will fall, which movement will send you crashing back to the earth, losing your faith and your breakfast simultaneously.

Yes, writers, we will endure hardships. We will face washed out bridges, mudslides and dead ends. We will enter tunnels of darkness that disorient us and make us question whether the pain is worth the unknown destination. We will face the decision to keep walking or to turn back. If the former, we will knowingly enter a partnership with more vertigo. If the latter, we will forever spiral into the blackness of self-reproach each time we see a new book on the shelves.

There is no cure for vertigo and the only treatment I'm aware of amounts to deliberately throwing yourself backward and beating your head against the mattress to dislodge the tiny crystals in your ear that have become trapped, thereby making your world severely imbalanced. The treatment is nearly as sickening as the vertigo itself, and it still takes time to recover. Time and persistence.

Heck, yes. Writing is just like vertigo.

Sadly, writer's vertigo is overwhelming enough to send many writers packing away their keyboards for good. How about you? Is your writing life spinning out of control? If so, what are you doing about it? What treatments do you rely on to regain your writing balance? How have you endured the spiral into darkness?

Curious minds want to know.

Cat Woods is a recovering vertigo patient--both in writing and in real life. In fact, she is still fighting the woozy aftermath of her latest bout. However, during her days of bed rest, a new idea came to her, proof that silver linings abound even during the blackest hours. Her advice: "Don't give up, don't give in and hold onto your passions no matter where the journey takes you." For more tips, click on over to her blog, Words from the Woods. Her short stories of hardships and the heroes who triumph over them can be found in every anthology of the Seasons Series by Elephant's Bookshelf Press.


Zambullida said...

Very useful.

Lately, I have been feeling like a failure, like a fraud. In my case, the best cure is taking a couple of days off and doing some reading. After that, I go back to work. Writings makes me suffer but also heals me.

JeffO said...

In non-writing life I get a little head-spin from time to time. It can be quite disorienting. Sorry that you've suffered so much from it, Cat. As for writing, well, I've just sent another round of revisions to my agent. Hopefully, I won't be sent reeling!

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LD Masterson said...

I'm going to veer off the writing question to offer this...I was in physical therapy recently for a disk problem and the subject of vertigo came up. My therapist said a trained physical therapist can manipulate the head and neck to force those little crystals back into alignment. Not long after, a friend of mine was suffering from severe vertigo and went to a physical therapist (not mine) and the therapist did, in fact, manipulate my friend's head and fixed the problem. Something to look into if you haven't already.

RSMellette said...

Welcome back from the land of Hitchcock.

My Dad tells a great story of getting an inner ear infection (vertigo) while waiting to land his fighter-bomber plane on the deck of aircraft carrier... AT NIGHT.

I think that could be the worst case scenario.

Debra McKellan said...

This is possibly the best analogy ever. And sorry to hear about your real vertigo. =\

I've finally learned to not wallow in writer's vertigo, because that week-long weakness can turn into months EASILY.

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