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:
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
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.
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.
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!!!!