Today is the one year anniversary of my brain turning to goo. Sort of. It could be worse, I guess.
How My Concussion Impacted My Writing: A Look at The King
A year ago today, I sustained a concussion at work. To make a long, repeatedly told story short, I was working at an awesome archery tag facility part-time as a referee (etc. – we all did pretty much everything when the business first opened). I loved going to work for the first time since… Well, ever. If you don’t know what archery tag is, check out this video!
Anywhoodle. I was refereeing a game when a player walked up to the safety zone between the two sides, right where I was standing, pulled back at a full draw, and let loose her arrow—right into the side of my face. I didn’t lose consciousness. In fact, I don’t recall moving at all. I just stood there in shock that someone had hit me from two feet away with 28 pounds of force. She half-assed apologized and kept playing. I stayed in the arena for a few minutes more, then went to the bathroom to cry.
After that session, I went home and immediately said to my Man, “I think I have a concussion.”
A few hours later, we were at the ER as I got progressively more inebriated sounding. Almost 7 hours later we left the ER close to 3AM having not been seen by anyone, me crying again from pain and exhaustion.
I’d had a concussion before a few years prior thanks to a little fender bender between a car and the bus I was on. That healed within a weekend, maaaaybe a week at the most. I had a headache for a day, then I was good to go shortly after. I expected this concussion to be more or less the same. I recall texting with one of my coworkers to apologize for leaving her and the team high and dry, not able to take my shifts for the week, and promising to be back next week.
“We’ll see,” she told me. “Just take the time to recover.”
I shrugged it off. I’d be back soon.
Three weeks later and I was worse. A year later I’m still dealing with the after-effects, also known as post-concussion syndrome. Months of dizziness, headaches, insane tinnitus, emotional rollercoasters and medications… It’s been a battle that still isn’t over. I was doing faaaaabulously right up until seeing Rogue One in theaters earlier this month. Then, hello setbacks, goodbye new Day Job.
During #Concussion2K16, I was working on The King. I wrote the bulk of the manuscript while concussed. I went through the revision, editing, proofreading, and pub-day prep… while concussed. The injury heavily impacted how I handled my writing, and I wanted to share some thoughts on what the journey was like for me.
And maybe other writers dealing with brain injuries can see that they’re not alone. That we’re all struggling with this. You’re a Queen just for trying.
So, how my concussion impacted my work on The King:
I personally felt like my writing quality diminished somewhat while I was recovering, especially in the beginning. I struggled to find the right words. I found myself using the same words over and over again, a step above the standard crutch word usage. I couldn’t remember names I’d used for places in The King’s prologue, The Fool, only months earlier. Overall, I think my writing has improved with each book I publish, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The King, however, felt somewhat weaker, whether it’s noticeable or not to the reader.
When I was first injured, I couldn’t look at a screen for more than five minutes. I chugged through a freelance assignment because I had an obligation to, as difficult as it was for me, by timing myself and word-vomiting as much as I could in five minutes. After that, I’d take a break for two hours, usually watching X-Files because the low quality dark 90s TV was all my brain could handle. I struggled to read more than a page or two on my Kindle at a time. Paperbacks were easier, but those were no cakewalk either.
So, because I couldn’t look, concentrate, or focus on my writing work for very long, the word counts I produced each week diminished considerably. All personal writing stopped so I could finish two freelance projects. Fanfiction went out the window. Gone. All I could do was sit on the couch and churn out 200-300 words in five minutes, then wait for the room to stop spinning and my head to stop aching.
Speaking of slow writing, my concussion forced me to push back most of my 2016 deadlines. Some people think it’s no big deal as a self-pub’d author to push a deadline. After all, you’re working for yourself. Unfortunately, there are other members of my team that I schedule time with who that impacts. My editor. My proofreader. My ARC readers who were patiently waiting for a copy of The King to arrive, dates getting shoved later and later into the year. It was a mess.
Editorial Work Sucked
Seriously. The King ended up being a huge book—probably too long for what it was. I had a lot of changes to make from first draft to last, and with my concussion, managing big picture issues was tough.
Honestly, it was just a struggle to wrap my brain around things, even though I was the one who created and wrote this story from the beginning. I had to work really hard to see and understand the connections betas and my editor were drawing between plot points and concerns they thought needed addressing. I had to read feedback notes over and over again because my brain does this fun thing now where it speed reads like I used to, but doesn’t retain more than half of what I’m reading. Implementing Track Changes was mentally exhausting. By that point in my concussion, I was… managing. Improved, but still injured, and I really struggled with the whole revision process.
I know, I know, no one likes revising their work. It’s exhausting for all writers, but I found it especially tedious given it was my first large manuscript and my brain wasn’t operating anywhere near full capacity.
Social Media was a Nightmare
I mean, scheduling stuff for a pub date is always a nightmare, one that I’m learning to manage slowly with each book. But thinking ahead, making blog posts, creating book graphics… It was this whole boatload of extra work that I barely had the brain capacity to do, but since I hadn’t been working much thanks to the ol’ brain, I didn’t have the money to hire the jobs out either.
I am immensely grateful to all my author/reader/blogger friends who helped me during this time (and continue to do so). You guys really got me through with sharing my ARC notifications and squeeing about things like aesthetic posts. (And aesthetic posts are literally all I can manage sometimes because I still struggle with my writing workload. But anyway.) You guys, you know who you are, were my rocks.
Books Didn’t Get Released (Because They Weren’t Written)
This is a side note to how my concussion impacted The King, but I had plans to pump out (heh) at least three or four short erotic stories for my Erotic Short Shorts series. There was no way, at all, that that was manageable. I’m going to try to do better this year, but I’m not putting any pressure on myself. Like I said, I’m still recovering, and my recent setback is making that slower.
I’m writing this post about a week in advance, and I’m not sure how I’ll feel on the one year anniversary of the accident. Maybe emotional. Maybe angry. Maybe it will just be like every other regular day—with me trying to do the best I can with what I’m working with.
But as I look back on the journey of getting The King from start to finish, first word to clicking Publish, I’m really freakin’ proud of what I accomplished. I cried the day my paperback proofs arrived. I kept saying, “It’s like a real book.” To which my Man replied, “It is a real book.” One that I wrote during the most challenging year of my life, honestly.
I got ‘er done. My brain injury held me back in a lot of ways. It slowed me down, made me cry, and turned self-publishing all that more difficult.
But I did it.
Fuck you, concussion. You don’t get to win. Not with The King, and not with the next book. Fuck you very much.
(And also Debbi. Who shot me in the face. Fuck you.)