Emotional Clutter

The last time I worked on my memoir (or this blog) was over 2 months ago. 

There are several reasons why I’ve gotten so off track, but most aren’t valid. Yes, balancing my writing with grad school while I teach homeschool and try to keep up with the housework is tricky, but it didn’t stop me from writing my first 100,000 words of the book. 

It’s the emotional clutter.

The little dick invaded my life in February, wreaking havoc on both my productivity and creativity. Consequently, my commitment to this memoir slipped away from me momentarily. 

Then my wife and I hit a “rough spot” just as I was struggling to wrap up the last part of the first draft (you know, the happily ever after part?) Actually, to be honest, it was more like a nose dive off a Cliff. The kind that makes you both begin to doubt that whole happily ever thing. It happens to the best of couples, of course. But, when it’s you and when it’s with the person you can’t imagine your life without, no matter how mad you are at them, it sucks ass. 

 By now, she’s used to hearing me call out to her from my office that “I’ll be done in a few minutes!” when we both know what I really mean is “I’ll be done several hours from now.” Getting me through grad school is a priority for both of us. So, she understands the commitment I’ve made and what it means as far as our time together. Still, it can be hard on our relationship. 

We were just getting used to the routine again when the Utah legislative session hit, which ended up becoming my priority for the remainder of the month. Per usual, some pretty shit anti-LGBT+ bills were circulating the floor (they really outdid themselves this year with the whole bigotry thing).

I am not built to let things roll off me. It’s something I’m aware of and have tried to make peace with. This year was especially hard, though. The session offered no relief for me or anybody else in the Utah LGBT + community…Or, really, anyone who is a decent person.

It was a mixed bag. On the one hand, I was highly emotional and angry most of the time. Ranting and raving to an audience of one who had no idea what to do to calm me down or comfort me. On the other, a non-profit I’ve worked with in the past offered me a research opportunity. Anyone that knows me well knows research is my life’s blood. It’s what I eat, sleep and dream. So, I jumped at the chance to help out. 

So, that’s what I did for almost an entire month. Everything else in my life was set aside for the “greater good,” including my wife. I became self-absorbed and emotionally unavailable, to say the least. Everything in our home revolved around the day’s politics—something she isn’t nearly as passionate about.

The toll was evident by the time the session was over, judging by the twitch I had developed in my left eye (which happens whenever I’m stressed and not getting enough sleep). I was hanging on by a thread, barely managing to keep my depression in check. For a moment, I thought my mood was going to crash so hard I’d have to withdraw from the program. 

The toll on our marriage was worse, though. The rough patch we had started to go through before it all began got a hell of a lot worse. In fact, there were times I wondered if we’d even get through it. Thus I found myself unable to write a single word. As a result, I abandoned my memoir.

Luckily, things started to turn around at the beginning of this month. We’ve both grown and made some changes. I can even feel the “spark” from the beginning of our relationship coming back. 

However, I’m still struggling to find make the time to write. And, no. I still haven’t figured out the right stopping point of this memoir. 

So, this week I had to make a decision or risk losing the last of my writing mojo. Something I’m not willing to do after all the blood, sweat and tears I put into that first draft.

Instead of struggling against the cock-block that is chapter 30-ish. I took a new approach. I decided I don’t have to write anything new; I just have to work on something that has to do with the book. Anything that will at least keep me connected to it. Right now, that means completely reorganizing my workflow and files. I’ve also gone through and done a rough cut and taken out some small sections that just didn’t “feel right” when I went back and re-read them. I’ve even started story-mapping (I think that’s what it’s called?), using a Hero’s Journey structure, which I had no idea existed until a couple months ago. I’ve also started working on scene and character profiles, which I was apparently supposed to do in a pre-draft (according to a bunch of Pinterest posts and youtube videos on writing).

All that has given me at least some sense of accomplishment as I wade through the last remaining pieces of emotional clutter while I’m waiting for a bit of inspiration to come back.

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash

Stephen King Sabotaged Me (allegedly)

Progress has been slow, but steady. The good news is that I have finally figured out where to end the memoir, which has been driving me nuts for the past 3 months. I am also now (as of yesterday) pre-editing the 3rd part of the book. Although, the task has not proved to be easy. Quite the opposite, actually.

In fact, as I stared at the screen yesterday . I could literally feel time being sucked out from underneath me as I tried to decide whether I should delete an entire chapter or add another one to a book that I already will need to cut at least 20,000 words from. I also found myself hating several of the chapter transitions, but could not come up with a solution to improve any of them.

When I first started writing the book, I thought about writing each chapter as if it were its own separate story. A series of flashbacks – since that seems to be how things come together in my memory, which would have solved that problem. Unfortunately, I had to drop the idea when I realized Stephen King wrote his memoir, On Writing, in the same style.

Dammit, Stephen!

Aside from being perturbed with Stephen King for ruining my idea by coming up with it first, I’m also struggling to retrieve important memories. There are so many conversations I’m struggling to remember 7 years later, even though they are important pieces to my story. How do I convey a feeling or mood when I have to ask myself questions like , “Why did we laugh so hard in the parking lot, again?” only to come up blank.

While we are at it, can anyone tell me why our bad memories seem to be so much easier to recall than our good memories?

I’d look it up, but I don’t have time.

I had hoped to be done with all the pre-edits by now. Sadly, however, that didn’t happen. Mostly because I forgot how grad school works while I was enjoying winter break and have been slammed for the last 2 weeks trying to adjust to a new schedule and new classes. Then, there’s that whole home school thing I’m involved in.

I suppose I can’t be too upset with myself. I’m still writing (editing) at least 3 times a week. So, I guess that’s at least some progress even if it’s much slower than I imagined. I continue to tell myself that I’d rather take my time and write something I can be proud of then rush through it because I am in a hurry and get published, especially when I don’t even know what route I’m planning on taking when that time comes. Although, I can’t help but be disappointed that my goal of releasing the book on National Coming Out day 2021 appears as though it was a far too optimistic one.

Sigh.

It would have been so poetic.

Finding Time in 2021.

If you couldn’t tell, I’ve been struggling to keep updated on the blog lately. I just haven’t found the time to focus write. You see after I met my first big goal of 100,000 words, I kind of fell off the wagon. I’ve still been writing, but not nearly enough (as evidenced by the lack of posts). My inability to stay on point is less laziness and more over-ambitiousness. I tend to take on too many projects at once. When I don’t reach those goals, I give up and go home. 

I continue to work on my own expectations. However, I’m still nowhere near as productive as I want to be. The biggest barrier of which is that I have TERRIBLE time management skills. I blame it on ADHD, which is why my mind is anywhere but where it needs to be at any given moment, except when I find myself entranced with a particular task. On those occasions, I hyperfocus like nobody else’s business, completely losing track of time and the world around me. I can literally spend an entire day writing or researching without even blinking. A 5 minute conversation or a 2 minute phone call I planned to make last week? Not so much.

We all know big visions require big commitments. And, when you have several of them going on at the same time, it can be challenging to manage and prioritize all of them in the correct order. At least it is for me, anyway. So far, 2021 has already managed to teach me how much harder I need to work and how much more committed I need to be to get to where I want to be. Getting published means getting exposure, which I’m trying to prepare for by building a brand, even though it may seem strange to do so far in advance. Unfortunately, these days, publishers care more about the audience you bring to them rather than the content of your book (or so I’ve read). This represents a massive challenge for a self-diagnosed agoraphobic like myself. So, that’s where I’m at. I’m in the middle of creating a brand that may end up being a colossal waste of time in the end.

The creative part is pretty fun. The more arduous tasks, like learning the technical skills to accomplish those creative parts, are not so fun. Taking content from the original idea to the final TikTok, YouTube video, or blog post always takes much longer than I think it will. I’m talking hours, days, or even weeks in some cases. Of course, the fact that I often re-edit the same sentence 20 times, do 90 takes of a 60 second TikTok because I hate the way my face looks, or the endless hours I spend trying to learn a cool new effect for a five minute YouTube video probably doesn’t help.

I marvel at the people who tell me they can get filming and editing done in one day or a blog post written and published in an hour. I think it has to do with some sort of superpower I will never possess, or maybe they just have plenty of uppers on hand. Case in point, as of now, I’ve been writing this post since 10:30am. It’s now 12:43 pm. 

{Okay, so I did spend some time browsing the internet for some reason which I can’t even remember. But, still! That’s an awfully long time to write a simple blog post.}

Hopefully, all of these things will eventually help me reach my ultimate goal: Get the memoir I’ve been planning on writing for over 20 years to a publisher, or at least to a point where I can self-publish it by the end of 2021.

On the bright side, I have, at least, managed to nail down a planner system (consisting of four, yes four, separate planners) to help me remain on whatever path it is that I’m on. So far, it seems to help about 20-50% of the time. Probably closer to 20%, considering it is now 2:51pm. At least it’s better than 0%, I guess.

100,000

100,000 words. I can’t believe that I’ve actually written that much. My first draft of my first hopefully-one-day-published book is nearly finished. I’ve made it to the end of the first tunnel and am barreling toward the second. I have spent so many nights unable to sleep because of the memories this experience brought up, not all of them pleasant. I’ve scribbled half-baked ideas on so many post-it notes, I’ve poured my heart out through my keyboard and, most of all, I’ve let my vulnerability take over the process.

The last few chapters are quite disjointed and full of incomplete thoughts. They look more like a group of crazy ramblings. So, I have quite a bit of cleaning up to do before I “officially” finish the first draft and I’m still struggling with deciding where on the timeline I need to end the book. I’m crossing my fingers it will just come to me during the “clean up”, but so far I’m pulling a big fat blank.

I have to admit, I’m a little proud of myself – a feeling which doesn’t happen very often for me. I know, I know. There are so many more steps ahead for this book. I’m probably still a good 3-4 drafts away from the finished product (not including the developmental and copyediting), and many decisions are yet to be made. However, my focus right now is to use this first goal as motivation to write the best book I can. The other stuff can work itself out later. Hopefully.

A little Progress, A lot of struggle.

I’m at around 87,000 words. That’s 13,000 from my goal of 100,000. My deadline for 100,000 is November 15th. It will have been exactly 90 days from the first sentence I wrote. I thought I’d actually hit 100,000 this weekend judging my my earlier pace, but that won’t happen. As usual it will probably be the the night of the 15th, only because I am a serial procrastinator. A habit I cannot seem to break no matter what, including the morning of my wedding when, at 4am, I finally finished the backdrop.

(If you look closely, you can see my twitchy eye from the lack of sleep in our wedding photos.)

They say that procrastinators tend to be perfectionists, which might actually be true for me. One of the hardest things about writing this memoir is the fact that I have had to learn not to edit every single sentence as I write it. My biggest flaw is a writer is my inability to write a paragraph without taking it apart several times over, until it resembles something completely different from the original version. Luckily, I’m getting better, but I still catch myself doing it all the time. It’s difficult to avoid when you know people are going to read your shitty first draft and you have an extreme fear of being judged.

Maybe, I will finish this book and finally realize that it’s time to stop giving a shit. Until then, however, I am sure I will continue to struggle with the idea of perfection and my fear of judgment.

For now, I’m just hoping I can get halfway done with those final 13,000 words this weekend, and finish the final few during the homestretch next week. If that happens, I’ll have finally hit the first step of the goal I set myself 20 years ago.

And then it will be time to work on the second step: editing the shit out of my shitty first draft.

Is this even worth it?

For about two weeks, I’ve been meaning to post on my vlog series about writing my first memoir. I’ve also been planning on writing a couple blog posts about how I’m dealing with imposter syndrome (which is kicking my ass right now) and my experience at my first writing retreat. Unfortunately, I’m too damn depressed and overwhelmed to write something even halfway decent, let alone something somebody would actually want to read. I mean, I can’t even get people to like a fucking instagram post or follow me on twitter (which I know is a totally lame thing to be bothered by). This “build your writer platform” is bullshit. It’s only made me feel more like a loser than I did before. TEN people in total follow this blog, but I’m probably the only one that reads it. I’m not saying that to get attention, I’m saying it because there’s a 90% chance it’s true and I’m a glass 90% empty kind of gal.

I really do appreciate the 10 of you, though.

As a self-diagnosed pro-social narcissist (who is obsessed with being liked by people), I am really struggling to find motivation these past few days. It’s a pathetic flaw of mine. I’m simply burned out. I spend half my day almost every day trying to work with my son’s school on his IEP – which is NOT working out (if only I could afford private school instead of the Utah POS public school system). The other part of my day is dedicated to Grad school (which I fucking hate), keeping up with the housework (which I can’t seem to do), writing a pretty fucking emotional memoir (which takes a toll after a while), while I also attempt to build some sort of non-existent brand (something I’m clearly failing at). 9 times out of 10, I fail at these little endeavors of mine. Actually, more like 10 out of 10. So, this is probably just one more thing I’ll never finish. One more thing to cement the feeling of inadequacy I feel on a daily basis. One more thing to have failed at.

They say writers feel alone a lot.

They are right.

At least they are in my case, anyway.

Why I chose to write my memoir under a “Nom de Plume”.

When I decided to finally start writing my memoir, I knew I had to choose a pen name for two reasons: The first is that my real last name is just not very author-ish. It’s German, hard to pronounce, and harder to spell. If, by some chance, there is a miracle and this memoir does get published, it’s not very desirable to publish under a name nobody can say or write. Unfortunately, my wife’s last name is equally as tricky, though it’s Sicilian. So, it wasn’t an option either. The second reason I chose to use a pen name was that I don’t want to get sued by any family members who may or may not be happy with how they are portrayed in the book to protect the privacy of myself, my family, and my friends.

Let me tell you, coming up with a pen name wasn’t easy. I searched Babycenter, the Social Security website, Pinterest, and random google searches for name lists. I also used dozens of name generators, including the name generator built into Scrivener. Hell, I even purchased an Ancestry account for inspiration – now being auto-billed to my credit card at a ridiculous monthly fee because I keep forgetting to cancel it. It was an exhaustive search with many, many contenders. Too many, actually. I’m talking several notebook pages and an excel spreadsheet full of names; I’m not exaggerating.

Initially, I was planning to change my first name, considering it’s also used by billions of other women born in the late ’70s and early ’80s. So, I picked names like Jessica (equally as common), Chloe (vetoed by wifey), Charlotte, Courtney, Ashley, and so on. Every single one of them ended up being rejected for one reason or another. Finally, I hit on the name for Jenessa. It was uncommon enough that it would work for any last names as a web address. I also liked it because it was a combination of the first names of two of my great grandmother’s Jessi + Genevieve. Unfortunately, I had to drop it when I ran it by someone who said it reminded her of a polygamist name. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a polygamist…If you’re over the age of 18, not forced to wear a prairie dress, use birth control responsibly, and have plenty of life options at your disposal.

It’s not just my indecisiveness and inability to stick with a decision for too long that haunted me in the process, however. Along with anyone else who considers using a pen name, I also needed to consider a few other questions. The most important being:

  1. Does someone already own that domain?
  2. Is it being used by an existing author or public figure?
  3. Is it easy to spell and pronounce?
  4. Will it work well as a social media handle?
  5. Does it fit your “genre”?

(I don’t really know how the last one works. Although, I do know that one of the last names I considered did make me feel like I would be required to write shitty romance novels as a condition for use. So, there must be something to it.)

Eventually, I gave up on trying to find a different first name. So, I started working on last names until I finally found a combination I really liked: Jennifer Hollins.

It has some sort of ring to it that I like, though I’m not sure what it is exactly. Although, it may have something to do with the “o” sound in Hollins, which is considered “pleasant-sounding,” according to some linguistics research I read. Yep, I took this name shit seriously enough to read actual research articles on sound (riveting, they were not).

Luckily, the domain name wasn’t already taken, and, according to Good Reads and Amazon, there aren’t any other authors with the same name. It’s also pretty easy to say, remember, and spell.

Numbers 1-3, check.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as lucky with #4. The Instagram username I wanted didn’t even show up in search, so I assume it was someone who ended up deleting their account. I did, however, find someone on Twitter with the handle of @jenniferhollins. Although she hasn’t used her account in several years. I reached out, hoping she would consider transferring it to me, but I never heard back. Probably because she doesn’t check her Twitter, seeing as how she has sent a total of 0 tweets with no other activity since she joined in 2011. So, I’m still messing around with different alternatives on both accounts (which makes me look slightly insane to my followers who continue to see my usernames switch back and forth from Jenn_hollins to jenniferhollins.author, to authorjenniferhollins, etc.)

Aside from these minor issues, though, I’m pretty pleased with my choice. So pleased, in fact, that I actually considered changing my real name. That is until I remembered the main reason why I didn’t change my name when wifey and I got married was so I didn’t have to deal with the damn DMV.

So, there you have it—the story of how I came up with my pseudonym. 

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

A Memoir in the Making?

Photo by Lauren Mancke on Unsplash

I’m a little over halfway done with my first draft of the to-be-named memoir (all the good titles seem to be taken. Thanks very much, Muriel Hemingway!). The goal of this draft is to get 100,000 words out, no matter how shittily they come spitting out from the keyboard. I figured this goal will give me enough room to cut some of the boring and unrelated parts out, because, as Stephen King says, your second draft should be your first draft – 10%. I figure the guy knows what he’s talking about, so it’s a tip I think I’ll use. 90,000 words is about 250 pages (based on the standard of about 350 words on a paperback page).

This is a good thing, right? I mean, for nearly 20 years, or more specifically, since I bought my first computer (A Gateway 2000 – which, I believe was still in the days of dial-up internet), my memoir has consisted of one or two pages of notes in a folder on my desktop. So, the fact that it’s even come this far is nothing short of a miracle.

Here’s the thing, though.

This is the part – the part of any project I’ve ever started where I usually begin to lose interest. And, I’ll admit, the past 2 weeks have been quite the struggle to keep writing at all, let alone at the same pace. In fact, I’ve written less than half of the days I planned on and only met my word count twice. To be fair, the world is in a state of full-on bag of dog shit on fire right now and, as a “creative”, my moods tend to coincide with what is going on in the outside world, even if it’s thousands of miles away in a country I’ve never heard of.

There’s more to it than that, though. It’s also the fear and anxiety regarding the future, after I’ve finished the 4th (or 5th draft) and how this book will end up turning out. Will it meet my expectations? Will it end up DOA like so many other good intentions of mine? The prospect of working your ass off for months, turning your unhinged thoughts into something someone may want to read only to have nobody want to read it, is a little intimidating to say the least.

So, as much as I want to believe it won’t happen this time, I worry these are the warning signs that the loss energy may be the clue that the end is nearing for yet another project. Although, I do continue to remind myself that this part, this part needs to be the part where I dig my heels in and fucking finish something I’ve started for once, instead of watching those 60,000 words fade into oblivion with every other great idea of mine that never came to fruition.

I also try to tell myself that this process, this book, is not about seeing my work published, a glossy cover with my name on it, a place on a best selling list, or positive reviews written by people like Oprah. It’s about the catharsis I am going through as I’m pouring my story out onto the screen. And, it is true, to a point. But, I think we all know, it’s also a lie we tell ourselves when we are terrified we are going to fail at something. Nobody with a shred of sanity, in my opinion, would spend so much effort writing something they didn’t want to see some sort of payoff from. I mean, if that’s the case, that’s what journals are for. For me, it’s not even about a big fat paycheck (though, it would be nice), it’s about people reading and relating to me as a person. It’s about people feeling less alone with their own thoughts, especially thoughts regarding their struggles with their own sexuality. And, of course, it’s about being liked – though, that’s the self-diagnosed “vulnerable narcissist” part of me.

The bottom line is that this book is a journey, a gut-wrenching journey that is forcing me to reconcile all the shitty things I’ve done in my life and including the most cringe-worthy of those moments from the past 30 years in my story. A journey where, if I’m being honest, I come across less like a heroine and more like a villain.

However, just like with any other journey, there is always an end-point. Let’s just hope the end-point for this one doesn’t come before the next 30,000 words and (at least) four more drafts.

If it does, however, I’m gonna be pretty pissed because it took me forever to find a decent pen-name to avoid any law-suits erupting from the massive amounts of tea I’m about to spill. Which, by the way, also caused me to change my social media handles and pay for a WordPress site (most likely, far too early) to avoid losing it to some other Jennifer Hollins, real or fake. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a last name that sounds decent, and goes with one of the most popular names on the planet today, that isn’t taken?

Pretty damn hard.

*Disclaimer: Due to time constraints, this blog is edited at lightning speed, most likely leaving a slew of horrible grammar behind along with several ill-connected thoughts. Therefore, the quality of writing (and proper use of prepositions – whatever the hell those are) is, most likely, not my best. But, I can’t afford an editor and am too lazy to open up Grammarly, so….

Welcome

Hello and welcome to my blog, which is clearly a work in progress. Please be patient until I find enough Pinterest and YouTube tutorials to teach me how to create a better one. Until then, I hope you’ll bookmark it and follow my writing journey. I am not an expert, just a woman with a few stories to tell. I created this blog as a way to document my path to, hopefully, publishing my first memoir.

Here is a picture and quote WordPress thought you might like:

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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