A Twelve-Step program for Getting Out of Writer’s Limbo

It’s 2015 and I’ve entered writer’s limbo. Limbo is (as you may or may not know) a level of hell. The very tip and not really all that bad, but still. Hell. Modern people might even call it purgatory (the great waiting room in-between heaven and hell). It doesn’t really matter what it is, just that I know I’m in it. When I can admit it, then I can get out of it: the very pinnacle of every twelve-step program.

Step 1: Admit you are in limbo.

I’m a writer, but I still whisper it when people ask me what I do. I put words on paper and people pay me money for them. It’s happened a number of times now, so I can pretty much verify that all adds up to a possible job title. To me, do it once it’s an accident. Twice, it’s a favor. Three times, “Hey! Maybe I could do this for a living?” Beyond that it’s now a job title. It’s magic. Sort of like how peanut butter and chocolate become twenty times more awesome when put together, not just a standard double awesome like people would expect.

But in the writing world, you’re not anybody until you have a novel. It can be through a traditional (large or small) publisher or it can be self-published. It doesn’t matter, really, just having something to point to on the shelf that has your name on it and all the pages in between were written by you. So, yes, I still whisper “writer” when people ask, “What do you do?” I say writer and most of the time people perk up. (Or their eyebrows smash together and huge concern that I might be delusional. Or maybe I’ve misread them; maybe they just had a bad turkey sandwich.

It’s like I’ve uttered the magic word and people’s ears perk up, but I want them to perk back down, because then I have to explain that I don’t have a novel. I have a lot of books they can find in a bookstore or a library, but I don’t have one that’s mine all mine. I don’t have a precious.

I have an agent. I have books out with editors. Those editors could be right now staining page 50 of my manuscript with their American-roast-part-skim-milk-touch-of-vanilla coffee.

And that is limbo. Also not having a book sold means I have to continue like I don’t have one or won’t have one. So I’m working on other books that have nothing to do with the current books I have out in the wild. Also there’s the unease of what projects I should be working on. Do I self-publish a short story series? Do I write a ton of short stories to send out to magazines, hoping I land in a good one? Do I beg my way into anthologies and other opportunities? What direction is the smartest?

And that is limbo.

I hate limbo.

Step 2: HATE limbo. It will suck you down in its never-ending abyss.

After wallowing in step two, it’s time to narrow down which project is the smartest direction to go. I’d do all the things, but time is not on my side. Remember how I mentioned those children things in past posts? They need me to pick them up from school and interact with them. I am their designated bringer of love and food and help with homework.

I’m sort of taking this approach to figuring out what projects should get my time:

Warning!! Foul language ahead. I’m sorry, but this is the only other language I speak other than English. And now that I’ve spent my good impression piggy bank money on telling you I’m a writer, I now have no other ways to impress you. So turn away now if these foul language waters will give you seasickness.

Turn away.

I mean it. I don’t want nasty letters from people telling me I shouldn’t cuss.

Grandma. Mom. I’m looking at you.

All right. So I assign every project a number of fucks given. If I have a burning need to write a certain story–then I give a fuck for that. Will it take a ton of effort or a little? Give fucks appropriately. When each project has its scorecard of fucks I give, I start to pick at those reasons.

I imagine this step to be me with an empty bottle of tequila in one fist and a carton of S’mores Ben and Jerry’s in the other. I have mascara down my ugly-cry face, bad hair, and I’m screaming at the top of my lungs “What did you ever do for me short story?” If I bully it into giving up it’s fucks-I-give points then eventually I’ll have no more fucks to give it and I can safely eliminate it from my pile of things I feel overwhelmed to do.

Some of the projects are like “But we can be good together if you give us a chance!” and they say even nicer things like “Remember last summer, when you were free and careless? You were at the top of your game when you were with me.” And they get to keep floating around in my mind as possibilities.

Step 3: Give as many fucks away as possible. You don’t need the baggage in limbo. It just gets heavier.

Step 4: Don’t let the past make you afraid of the future.

Last year I thought I made a mistake. I had too many possibilities for projects. All paying. I had to say no to at least one. I was getting two novels ready with my agent to send off for consideration, so it gave me less time to work on short story projects. I had an opportunity to write a tie-in for a game company and I so badly wanted to, but I knew even though it would be a lot of money, it would be a lot of time taken away from writing my own original work that I’d hold the rights to. I also didn’t have the skill to do it right (so it would be even more time taken away to gain the skill). So I had to let it go. Instead I said yes to an anthology project that was right up my alley, but it ended up falling flat. And I spent that time writing a story I never got paid for. So I was out two projects in one fell swoop. At the time I thought I misjudged the risk, but I think there might have been another reason.

I have to trust my gut. And I can’t spend time looking back and worrying that I’m making the wrong choices. Stay the path and take the opportunities that make sense. Not all of them will have huge rewards at the end. So for now I’m working on a novel. A short story that is a finish-up to a project (a guaranteed sale—although I’m weary of those now.). And a secret project.

On to next steps!

Steps 5 – 11: ?

Step 12: Enjoy being out of limbo.

And there you have it. My plan to get out of limbo!

I love comments! For every comment you will buy a writer’s way out of limbo. Sort of like the collection box at a church.

6 thoughts on “A Twelve-Step program for Getting Out of Writer’s Limbo

  1. pfunky32

    Where’s steps 5-11? Is this a series of blog post? 😉 I feel ya sister. Needing validation for being a writing is almost a cliche. We all need it. We all need it in copious amounts. I know you will get one of your novels published, and soon. You worry too much! Enjoy your time in limbo, you’ll miss it when the storm of success comes walloping at your door.

    1. Tina Post author

      Ha! I have rescued you from the Spam folder!! Thank you for the heads up!

      I like the way you look at it. I’m going to put on my storm jacket and enjoy Limbo.


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