Round Table: SLIME!!!!

Lately, all three of the Merry Sisters has gone through a period of severe angst regarding our writing. It’s been so common and pointed that we came up with a word for what happens to us:

SLIME

Have you all read and/or seen HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones? The character of Howl is a talented, but quite vain, wizard. In one scene Sophie (who’s under a spell that makes her look like an old woman) has accidentally rearranged Howl’s potions in his bathroom, and his hair ends up dyed the wrong color. OH NOES! Howl flips out, throwing what might be the best temper-tantrum EVER.

Basically, he whines so hard he starts turning into green slime. Just like in that picture over there. Now, all three Merry Sisters love this book, and we just might identify a little too much with Howl. So it was a natural name for our moments of crushing angst.

Here we are, discussing our worst moments, what causes them, and how we make them go away.

Maggie: So how do we want to begin?

Brenna: Should we define slime?

Maggie: That’s a good idea. I should put sugar in my tea as well.

Tessa: Let me see if i can find our original chat when we named it slime.

Brenna: I think we use the word slime as a catchall to refer to a lot of different things that make writing difficult or unpleasant

Tessa: I found it, from back in Janurary:

***

Tessa: PUT DOWN THE DELETE BUTTON

Maggie: I may possibly be having a conniption fit. what do they look like? GOD I’M GOING TO BE THE STAR OF A BAD MOVIE WHERE THE AUTHOR GETS WRITER’S BLOCK AND THEIR CAREER GETS BURIED OUT BACK BY JODIE FOSTER

Tessa: I think you need to walk away from the computer. Call Love Slave and go eat chimichangas. Bill Cosby says conniption fits make your eyes explode. Among other things.

Maggie: That’s it – that’s what’s happening

Tessa: If I was there I would physically drag you away from the computer. Have you had sugar today? Sugar is good for you.

Maggie: Fine. I will go and put clothing on. I will brush my hair. I will drive my Camaro. I will come back and give my sketches and photos to my neighbor. I will get my kids. Then I will have another conniption fit, with them home to watch me twitch and drool. And my word count will be 4,213 LESS than this morning
angst!
GREEN SLIME!

Tessa: Ha! I was actually JUST looking for a picture of Howl online to illustrate your emotional state!

***

Tessa: That’s how we started calling it SLIME, in that little moment of woe.

Maggie: Yeah. That’s slime. That’s what slime is. It’s not just writer’s block. It’s the despair that writer’s block WILL NEVER END.

Tessa: When we think we’ve ruined our lives by becoming writers.

Maggie: ’cause we all get stuck, right? But we always figure in the end we’ll work through it. But when there is no end, there is . . . slime. Then we start saying things like "no talent hack"

Tessa: sweat turns thick and green

Brenna: before the end, there is slime

Tessa: oozing from pores

Maggie: Yeah. I think we all agree on what slime is.

Brenna: It can be short-lived and easily solved, or it can persist

Tessa: I don’t think I slimed BEFORE I was on the professional road though. When I was still living in the land of hopes and dreams, things like rejection never made me slime. There was angst and trauma… but slime feels different. Like there’s more at stake.

Maggie: Oh, that’s so true, Tess! I don’t think I’ve ever had slime before being published.

Brenna: Yes, it’s definitely been like that for me.

Maggie: So it must have something to do with external perceptions of our work.

Brenna: My big, epic episode of slime was when, having gotten representation, I suddenly had a lot of pressure to do a big revision and have it turn out really well.

Tessa: And if you didn’t your agent would hate you and leave you in the gutter.

Brenna: yes! I was sure of it!

Maggie: All of my slime always comes from thinking that I wrote the AmazingBookofWonder and now was writing the DreadfulBookofSequel

Tessa: and you have no choice. So it’s like failing at your destiny!

Brenna: like, that you set the bar and now are worried about meeting or surpassing it?

Maggie: Yep, that’s exactly it for me.

Tessa: Look it’s the grail hanging over that castle, but I am too weak and impure to get to it! WAH.

Maggie: Because it’s not about deleting words — I do that habitually and I’m quite good at it. Look at me go! Delete! Delete! Delete! It’s like a haircutter chopping hair. It will grow back. Then suddenly you realized, no, you chopped an ear, and possibly, depending on the species, THAT DOES NOT GROW BACK.

Tessa: YES! It’s fear of not being good enough, and everybody will know it. Not just that you’ll disappoint yourself, but the WORLD.

Brenna: I think it’s important to note that we are not typically very gentle with each other when one of us is sliming.

Tessa: hahah, yeah. Me: I’ll never write another novel. Maggie: You’re so full of crap.

Maggie: It’s definitely tough love, for the most part.

Brenna: A lot of times, the other two serve as drill sergeants

Tessa: Though we can be nurturing. I swear. It happens.

Maggie: It does. I will say that the other night, when I was at an all time slimy low, Tess was quite kind.

Tessa: Anything else would have been like kicking a puppy.

Maggie: But it was only because she read the writing on the wall.

Brenna: Yeah, I think it’s a matter of knowing what someone really needs at that moment

Tessa: A bleeding puppy with broken legs.

Maggie: hahhahahaha. You missed it Brenna. I WAS Howl.

Brenna: Tess not kicking the puppy?

Tessa: It’s true. And I was not feeling Sophie. I was feeling Calcifer, who would also die if the slime got on me.

Maggie: So true. Actually, that, right there, could be us: me = Howl, Tessa = Calcifer, Brenna = Sophie

Tessa: That is… shockingly accurate.

Brenna: hahaha

Maggie: so did we honestly never have slime before we got published? This is making the professional life sound dire. I guess I didn’t because I always thought there was more revising or more books to write.

Brenna: I . . . didn’t really. Maybe a couple times when I was working on my thesis, but again that had a lot to do with external pressure

Tessa: I really don’t think so. I’m trying to remember. And maybe some people would. But when a book was rejected I just wrote another one.

Maggie: It was never about getting THE book published by THE publisher.

Tessa: It was about getting better and learning. And being able to shove the Wrong Book into the closet.

Brenna: Right, there was less pressure for any one book to be the right one

Maggie: So, quality slime really required quantifiable failure. Or the fear of it. Losing with no ability to rematch

Tessa: In public. With your pants down.

Brenna: Fear of failure, definitely. Pressure to do a good job.

Maggie: Because I don’t think my recent slime was necessarily because of size of audience. There wasn’t even a bad manuscript to show to the public. There was no danger of it getting out there. So my slime was because I, personally, had never quantifiably failed as a writer in my OWN eyes. Howl did not really slime because his hair would look bad to others. (Though he was vain). It looked bad to HIM. SLIMMMMMMME!!! So instead of writing the rest of lousy draft and sending it out, I perceived it as lousy and sllliiiiiiiimmmed.

Brenna: And then deleted.

Maggie: I deleted before I slimed. Well, maybe they were concurrent.

Tessa: You’ve been sliming with relative frequency for about 3 weeks. It’s a blur.

Brenna: But the point is, there was slime, and then there was ACTION

Maggie: Maybe we should talk about fixing slime.

Brenna: Because I know we’re making writing under contract sound so dire, and it’s really not

Maggie: It really isn’t. It’s usually quite amazing. I love writing knowing it’s already sold and is definitely going to be A Book.

Brenna: There are just these moments where you start to have a much wider perspective than before. Or at least, that’s how it’s been for me

Maggie: I’ve only ever sold one completed book, everything else has been sold on spec or partial.

Tessa: And you have to let the slime come. You can’t wallow in it, but holding it in is toxic.

Maggie: Holding it in means you’ll never get better. I think ignoring slime is a really bad idea. I mean, I could’ve ignored my first major slime a few weeks ago and just finished that book.

Tessa: I think that’s one thing we all agree on though: it isn’t worth anything if you aren’t trying to get better.

Maggie: Right.

Brenna: Right, the doubt or the frustration is there to make sure that you’re trying to fix or improve something

Tessa: So, fixing slime: really helps to have support network. Like we have each other. And partners. And fluffy kittens. And chocolate. And pillows to cry into.

Brenna: Someone to tell you if you are being unreasonable, and exactly how unreasonable

Maggie: Yeah. I don’t know how long my last slime would’ve lasted if I hadn’t had you and Natalie to talk through it, Tess. And the thing was that I also had a very supportive Lover, but him being supportive was nice – but not useful. When you have slime, you need someone who is a writer. Not because they don’t understand — slime is a universal language — but because if you have a specific plumbing problem, you get a damn plumber.

Brenna: someone who can say, "well THERE’S your problem"

Maggie: Yeah. I think the real point is that a) you can’t prevent slime, b) slime is there for a reason and c) the root of the slime making has to be attacked. You can’t just scrape off the slime, because there’s always more where that came from. Oh yeah. and d) slime is your own fault.

Tessa: like having a guinea worm

Brenna: And it helps to have someone else who will say, "Back up. What’s the heart of the story? Could these other things be getting in the way?"

Maggie: Exactly! That’s how Tessa solved my slime the other night, those very questions, actually. I believe she said STOP. WHAT IS YOUR STORY REALLY ABOUT?

Tessa: You have to extract a guinea worm slowly over hours, being patient until you get the head out, because otherwise it breaks off in your leg and rots and you die.

Maggie: Tess has such gorgeous analogies.

Brenna: Sometimes it’s so easy to forget what you’re trying to say.

Maggie: It really is easy to lose perspective. I think that’s when deadlines come in.

Tessa: Which are a professional thing! Maybe that’s why we only really found slime now.

Maggie: It’s not that a deadline will make you lose persepective. It just makes it more probable. Like going out in the cold will not make you sick, but if you’re already susceptible, it can hose your immune system.

Brenna: You focus more on meeting the deadline than on distilling the story to its purest form, maybe?

Tessa: It adds pressure and weight to what’s already happening.

Maggie: It makes it seem more important to get it perfect right out of the faucet

Tessa: Howl had to go out to see the king, so didn’t have time to fix his hair.

Maggie: Right, right. The hair by itself wasn’t the problem. Just like none of us would actually slime over writer’s block normally.

Tessa: We’d write something else or go watch a movie.

Maggie: Because we know what it is: us being told by our Jiminy Cricket that we’ve gone wrong.

Tessa: AND OMGBBQCANWEFIXITINTIME?!?!

Maggie: Did someone say BBQ?

Tessa: mmmmmm cows.

Thanks for tuning in!

So, fair watchers, what makes you slime? How do you get out of it? Is there a secret trick you’ve learned? Because if there is, we beg you to tell us!!!!

52 thoughts on “Round Table: SLIME!!!!

  1. I don’t ‘slime’ over writing generally.

    I do it over writing rituals, specifically, since I started actually considering myself a priestess (and since others started treating me like one). Most of the time, and for most of the time I’ve been pagan, I can take ten minutes and whip together a thirty-minute ritual for twenty people with six speaking parts containing overlying motifs and imagery, unifying inclusive path- and gender-sensitive themes, and a deep and poignant take-home message. Like clockwork.

    When I used to find myself stuck on a ritual, I’d be like, “eh, we’ll just wing it, and it’ll all come out OK,” and usually the ritual would just sort of organically come to life. Some of them were brilliant and awesome, some were hacked-together and confusing.

    But now, now that ‘priestess’ is part of my personal identity and my public face (like ‘author’ is part of yours), part of how I consider and present myself, I feel like I have to actually be good at it on command. It’s not so much how other people will think of me, or whether I’ll make a deadline, but a whole self-flagellating thought process about “How can I be and claim this *thing* as an element of who I am, if I can’t *do* it?” The idea that someone might not like the ritual itself isn’t where the pressure and the slime come from, but rather the idea that my life choice of priestess might have been a self-delusional mistake, a fluke based on a couple of successful incidents and a vague feeling of purpose.

    I don’t know how much it will translate to writing, but what I do when I catch myself in that cycle of self-directed anger and doubt, is to go back to *why* I’m a priestess. Why do I do this? Is it for me? For my community? For my goddess? This one moment, this challenge of confusion and worry, it can’t unmake what I am any more than one single success made me. We are what we are at the core, whether we fit some arbitrary definition for it or not. I find that once I dissociate my immediate circumstance and performance from my identity as ‘someone who can do it’, the pressure and the anxiety ease and even if I can’t get the ritual to flow, I can step away from it without cycling into despair, and let it work itself out as it goes. I can see other options (contacting a fellow priestess for help or feedback, for example), I can acknowledge that I’m out of my depth and scale back what I’m trying to do, I can throw planning to the wind and decide to wing it. In any case, though, I can stop beating myself to bits over it.

  2. See you guys have done it again – now I’m going to have to go and pick up a copy of ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ now! (maybe you should get commission or something). I’m too new at “proper” writing to have anything worthwhile to say about this topic although I would get writer’s block as a songwriter (and I’ve been writing for years). Just reading or listening to something special can inspire you…*cough* Shiver *cough*…or brainstorming and organising your thoughts, maybe using mind mapping software so you can see it visually. Also, bouncing ideas of like minded writers πŸ™‚

    I love these posts as whether you are or not, I feel like you’re all sat round a hugh table drinking coffee/tea and I’m right there with you! I just hope there’s cookie dough…(I figure if Maggie is there, there should be some)

  3. I’m completely with you on reading or listening to something special. I know there are writers who don’t like to read other people’s stuff when they’re working on something, but I absolutely have to! I feel like I need that inspiration or that . . . role model, I guess, to spur me on πŸ™‚

  4. Slime is universal – this is just how we’ve realized we’ve come to experience it.

    ps. Yes, there was cookie dough, and yes you should definitely read HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. It’s one of my all time favorites.

  5. Oooo, yes, I think your point about claiming the identity is spot on! That’s what we meant, I think, by SLIME indicating the perception of failing at our destiny.

    And it’s the assumption of identity – our value being linked to our product – that makes the pressure so much heavier.

    Those are good questions: basic, core thoughts. Like getting to the heart of the story.

  6. Thanks for writing this.

    It applies greatly to some of my feelings right now about writing a manuscript. I was on top of the world after attending a writing workshop, and I thought everything was possible. And then, well life started happening, and the writing kind of dried up.

    I tried writing through it. All I did was spin my wheels. There was no where I could turn to get perspective on the story. My friends are used to finished products, many of my writing buddies aren’t where I’m at, and I became the writer alone.

    More life, then. Now, I’m sick, tired, overworked, and I haven’t got a story, and the agent who’s waiting to see my next project is still waiting.

    I’m hopeful. I know what needs to happen next in the novel. First I’ll get well, and then I’ll see if I can re-embrace that sense of adventure that made me write in the first place.

    All of you talking about it, however, has helped me put things in perspective.

    Catherine

  7. Glad we can help.

    That really makes sense about Real Life type external forces bringing on something like slime. Best of luck to you.

  8. I think you’re probably right about SLIME being a published/external pressures/fear of not being able to follow up thing. Cause I don’t think I’ve evers slimed… but I’ve definitely had bouts of writer’s block, both short term (“I will never get this next scene/sentence/paragraph/chapter/whatever”) and longer term (“this whole story sucks and what am I doing thinking I can write oh woe is me alack and alas etc”), but never with this crippling sense of it being a permanent state.

    That said, I am so printing off a picture of slimey-Howl and captioning it “STOP. WHAT IS YOUR STORY REALLY ABOUT?” and posting it on my wall above my desk. So thanks!

    (That, and going to watch/read HOWL like my boyfriend’s been pestering me to do for the last age and a half.)

  9. I haven’t been published and I SLIME all the time. Then again, that’s external pressure as well.

    DAD: Writing with get you know where!
    ME: but tis what I love!
    DAD: You will grow old eating cardboard!
    ME: What does that have to do with anything?
    DAD: you will be pooooooor! *looks real serious*
    ME: I don’t care. I’d rather be homeless than stop writing.



    DAD: You should eat more fruit.
    ME: *Glares8
    DAD: And you will be poor.
    ME: Dad-
    DAD: I’m going to garden! *Storms off the garden in manly angst*

    Okay, my dad isn’t that bad. If his expression’s talked that is what the conversation would be though.

  10. Yeah, I would argue that our reactions to real life things, i.e. deadlines and sickness, are what gives us quality slime in the first place. Because I think most writers actually use writing to make themselves more sane people and thus works us OUT of other life slime.

    So when the slime keeps us from writing, it’s like double doses of slime.

  11. Oh, gawd. Double doses of slime. Maybe we should differentiate via color. Green slime= subconscious roadblock; pink slime= family angst; blue slime= illness, ETC.

  12. i literally just finnished reading Howl’s Moving Castle, and it was amazing. the part were he started sliming was my favorite part, and i think it is the best tantrum ever thrown in literatrue or otherwise. that was a wonderful round table, thanks!!!

  13. totally. but whenever my dad says that it makes me even more determined which I guess it good. Meh. Slime still sucks. BTW, I love howls moving castel! I love the book and the movie!

  14. but whenever my dad says that it makes me even more determined

    I think this is so important! Sometimes the things that frustrate you or make you doubt yourself are also the best motivators. The things that make me SLIME also tend to make me demand more of myself than I would have otherwise. Slime can be really unpleasant, but I think it also keeps you from being complacent.

  15. I ♥ Howl! And there’s something about Sophie that’s so refreshing, even in the face of slime.

  16. “Brenna: My big, epic episode of slime was when, having gotten representation, I suddenly had a lot of pressure to do a big revision and have it turn out really well.

    Tessa: And if you didn’t your agent would hate you and leave you in the gutter.”

    YES YES YES. THIS. Of course my agent is fantastic and I’m not complaining about her, but every now and then my thought is, “She is a genius and I am just a lowly young writer and my book is probably a fluke and what if she hates my next one and what if I ruin this revision and my book is awful and I’m awful and…”

    And then I have to remind myself that my agent is fantastic and she’s loved what I’ve written so far and I have to trust both myself and her. πŸ™‚

  17. I hesitate to say this bc I love the book so much, but the tantrum might be even BETTER in the movie… O_O

  18. We’re just a slimy, paranoid class I suspect. Agents are probably like “writers! Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em!”

  19. No one’s invented an anti-slime shower? Seriously?

    I came here hoping to learn this wonderful contraption had been invented, but alas, I’m still covered in slime. *sigh*

    I don’t have any published/agented writing slime to deal with, but there’s plenty of slime on the road to publication (maybe that’s why people keep slipping off).

    In all honesty, I don’t think we can ever get out of the slime (unless you are Mr./Ms. Super Ego Author and every word you write is golden and needs no editing and then you probably shouldn’t be reading this). Slime is everywhere . . . all the time . . . though not always so thick.

    Our friends and family can help scrape off some of the slime when they listen to our slimy stories of slime (though as was mentioned, they sometimes add slime). And there are other great moments that can scrape off some of the slime . . . but it never goes away forever. Slime is what makes us human (I know they taught you our bodies were mostly water, but they were wrong). πŸ˜‰

    I know that sounds depressing, but it depends on how you look at it, I suppose.

    A writer’s (published or unpublished) journey is like a slime filled road. There are potholes where the slime is deeper and sometimes we fall in to those holes. Hard to get out, but possible if we try. Sometimes the holes are so deep we need someone to reach down and help pull us out (a true friend is one who will reach into the slimy hole and pull you out . . . right people?)

    There are also tight curves on the slimy road. We may slide off of. Heck we might even hit a slimy tree, but we CHOOSE to get back on the road and that makes all the difference . . . because we don’t have to be slime covered writers, but we want to be. Our characters need their stories told. Our minds need to be creative. And slime is part of the process.

    It’s true . . . slime happens (unless you are Mr./Ms. Super Ego Author mentioned above).

    You three are wonderful examples of knowing there is slime, dealing with the slime, and continuing down the slimy road. You inspire those of us following in your tracks (’cause we can still see them in the slime) and give us the desire to keep going. One slimy footstep at a time. =D

    Let’s start a support group. It can be Writers Against Slime . . . and how appropriate is it that the acronym is a passive word we need to eliminate from our writing? =)

    Yeah, I’ve been awake since 3 a.m. so I’m not even sure if this makes sense. I probably should delete it because it’s a lot of drivel, but I won’t because that would be giving in to the slime. πŸ˜‰

    W.A.S. forever!

  20. i think you’ve started something very slimalicious here…WAS forever! wooo. (and Howl 4eva tooo – i love you howl!)

  21. There are times *cringe* when i’m so covered in slime that i’m like – maybe i should’ve become a dentist? Maybe then i wouldn’t be so pooor and slimy? but then i’m like no way dude! (yes i just said DUDE) Being a writer is way more fufilling and fun and stressful and how else would i be able to have a slimefight with all my friends? (envision snowball made entirely out of green goo and you’ll see just how enticing this can be!)

  22. I say dude all the time, too. Heehee.

    I agree: the non-slime more than makes up for the slime times.

  23. Loved the roundtable, Ladies. Here’s something: Smile Like It’s Mighty Evil. Okay, that’s the best one I could come up with (inspired by the acronym idea). There was also Smile Like It Might Explode.

  24. I β™₯ Howl!!!

    I’ve never felt true slime cause I’ve never been published and if I ever choose to go down that road, it won’t be any time soon… but I recently felt slimed (as close as I will ever get to that feeling) and just got out of it yesterday (thanks to Arctic Monkeys and chocolate) and now I can’t seem to write fast enough πŸ˜€
    It has never felt so easy to write! So I guess being slimed helped me better myself and my writing… I’m off to write!

  25. Thanks for the post ladies. I supposed we all need to know from time to time that published authors too get neurotic behind close doors and that it is all part of the process. I was beginning to think that it was just me being needy πŸ˜€

  26. Ha! Although I have to say, my journey is usually about 80% slime free. If there was much more slime than that, I’d consider doing something else! More than 20% slime is too much for happiness!

  27. My dentist once told me I drooled more than anyone he’d ever met.

    I’m sorry, was that off topic?

  28. I slime over…well, slime, actually. You know what I mean? Generally, the things that trip me up the most are feelings of inadequacy–fear that my story isn’t good enough, or that I’m not good enough to tell it. I make myself write through the slime and I always end up feeling better! I’ve decided that the slime only wins if I let it. πŸ™‚

  29. Okay, so I have to come back to this post, because when I read it, freshly posted in Feb, I thought, ‘oh, that’s sucky’ but I didn’t really have any idea what you were talking about. BUT THEN, this last week, I’ve been off, I’ve been in despair, I’ve deleted 15,000 words, re-written them, deleted them again, thrown shoes at walls, shouted, “MY BOOK HATES ME I WILL BE A FAILURE BEFORE I’VE EVEN HAD A CHANCE TO WIN!” … I’ve been feeling something I’ve never felt before and it has been horrendous. I tried googling my symptoms… but I didn’t find anything.

    And then it hit me… SLIIIIIIIME!

    So, I went back and re-read this post, the entire time shouting ‘YES! That’s IT! SLIME!’ (to my husband’s dismay, as he and the kids were sleeping and I was a little loud). I swear, just knowing I’m not alone in my sliming made all the difference. I ate a funfetti cupcake, picked at my book until things started to make sense again, went to bed, and now, I’m ready to move along and finish.

    You three people are the BEST. ❀

  30. AWESOME.

    And also, I might have laughed a little. πŸ˜‰

    I’m super glad this could help you get some perspective. Slime sucks, but it seems to be a necessary step in this whole process. Alas.

    Best of luck!!!

  31. Thanks!

    and laughing at other people’s angst makes the world go round, am I right? πŸ˜€

  32. thx so very much! i just read howl’s moving castle because of this and it was great! never heard of it before but the title grabbed my attention and since i was between books i decided to read it, it was a great recomendation πŸ™‚

  33. Yay, I’m so glad you loved it. I have passed on your love to Brenna and Maggie, who are sitting right next to me at the moment! πŸ˜€

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