After six months of torture, I had my dirtbag gallbladder removed on Tuesday. Here's what I learned.
1. AT FIRST, THEY WILL TELL YOU YOU'RE CRAZY.
That's right-- the first time I showed up in the ER with a laundry list of scary symptoms from vertigo to indigestion to chest pain, they told me I was having panic attacks and should consider seeing a counselor. The general attitude was Give the crazy lady some nice pills and send her home to her husband. Worst of all, they made me doubt myself. I was convinced it was all in my head. I started having panic attacks about having panic attacks.
And that was bullshit, because there was a legit medical problem that they missed.
When you tell people you want to write a book, they often have a similar response. Your family, especially, might think that you're just making stuff up or talking big. But writing a book is a job, and if you take it seriously, it can become a calling. Don't let someone tell you it's just in your head. GUESS WHAT, FOOLS? IT'S REAL.
2. IT'S GOING TO GET WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER.
As it turned out, I had a bum gallbladder full of gallstones. It took 3 different specialists and 2 trips to the ER to figure that out. I had a 15-day long gallstone attack, which basically means that I had the worst indigestion of my life and thought I was going to die in my sleep every time I closed my eyes. It hurt, and I didn't know if I was on the right track, and when I thought that it was my new normal, I got very depressed and hopeless.
And, hey! That sounds like querying! When I didn't know if my writing was good or bad and couldn't get any insight into how to improve or move forward. I felt hopeless all the time and like a total failure paddling in a sea of suck. Turns out that suffering is part of both processes. Even after you know what you're doing, it's going to be hard sometimes.
3. MAGIC WOO WON'T SOLVE YOUR PROBLEM.
So I had this problem with no answer, and I did what anyone does in 2015-- tried to crowd-source a solution. I was told it was hormonal, it was a virus, it was reflux, it was silent reflux, it was NINJA REFLUX, it was a heart attack, it was a pinched nerve. I was told to do yoga, to drink tea, to take pills, to see a chiropractor. Once we found out it was my gallbladder, some thoughtful folks who were not doctors and had never suffered through gallbladder pains gave some lovely advice around "paying attention" to my gallbladder and "eating around" the symptoms. Because, you know, when your ORGAN IS DYING, you can reverse that by NOT EATING BUTTER.
Point being, it's up to you to do the research. To take all advice with a grain of salt, check sources, and make sure that the experts really are experts. There's a lot of bullshit advice about writing being shouted and sold by people who don't have the insider knowledge or experience you need. There are e-books on Social Media for Writers by people who have less than 1000 Twitter followers. There are people giving advice on how to get an agent who have never had an agent. There are people talking in-depth on plotting when they've never written a single book. And that might not be the best source of advice.
There is no magic pill to fix a gallbladder or get an agent or sell a book. If a solution seems too easy and too good to be true, it probably is.
4. THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH... A HOLE IN YOUR BELLY BUTTON.
For my suffering, there was only one answer: laparoscopic surgery to remove my gallbladder through a hole in my navel. I was so excited when the ultrasound showed gallstones, because that meant I had an answer and could take steps to get better.
How is this related to writing?
Because you can surgically remove your book from your navel, obviously.
The thing is, plenty of folks would postpone having that surgery in hopes that it would get better on its own. We often know what we need to do, but we're too scared to do it. Some people will finish a book and dread revisions, choosing instead to start a new book. Some people will let a perfectly lovely edited draft sit on their hard drive because they're scared to query too early. Some people will keep throwing their query at increasingly less well-matched agents because they're afraid to shelve their book, accept that it's not going to happen this time, and write a new one.
And screw that. The steps are clear. Go boldly. Do the thing. You'll feel better.
5. DON'T LET IT STOP YOU FROM LIVING YOUR LIFE.
"What are you doing tomorrow?" the surgeon asked, poking my belly.
"Flying to Phoenix Comicon."
"Okay, so what are you doing the day after you fly back?"
That's how we scheduled my surgery. Sure, I could've canceled my trip and had surgery the next day, but I wasn't having an attack at the moment and really wanted to see my friends and make good on my commitment. The doc's only advice was, "Make sure you know where the good hospital is and don't eat any fat."
The latter was hella harder than the former.
If you pay attention to social media as a writer, it can feel like everyone is running a race that you're perpetually losing. Every day, someone's getting an agent, getting a deal, announcing foreign sales, selling movie options, or otherwise having amazing things happening to them that you'd very much like to happen to you. Suddenly, there's this immediacy around writing, like if you don't stay home and write 10k today, everyone else is getting ahead.
But writing is a long game. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. Today's deal book was written two years ago. Sometimes, you need to close the laptop, flip a bird at your gallbladder, and go live your life. Whatever you're doing can keep a few days, provided you don't have a fever. Go have adventures. Connect with people. Live. The surgeon and your WIP will still be there when you get back. A great book is going to sell just as well tomorrow as it would have today. My gallbladder did not explode, but I had a hell of a time in Phoenix.
6. YOU HAVE TO GIVE UP CONTROL. TO A SCARY DUDE IN A MASK.
Okay, so maybe not the second half, unless your agent/editor is into cosplay.
Thing is, there's a point as a patient when you're wearing a buttless dress in someone else's bed, stuck full of needles and watching an anesthesiologist juggle bottles of mystery juice, and the only thing left to do is stop fighting, close your eyes, and go to sleep. Which is scary as hell, but also liberating.
Same thing in publishing.
If you want to be traditionally published, your goal is to sell a book to an editor at a publishing house, and at that moment, your book is no longer your baby. You must cede control. You must trust your editor's taste, knowledge, and savvy and figure out how to do whatever they ask. You must put your writing into their hands and trust that they will make it better. If only we could edit while heavily sedated, right?
7. IT HAPPENS SLOWLY AND THEN ALL AT ONCE AND THEN YOU FORGET EVERYTHING.
The countdown to surgery took foooooreeeeeveeeer-- as my Twitter timeline shows. But once the IV was in, everything went very quickly, and suddenly, I was waking up stoned out of my mind with a ginger ale and lots of polite questions.
Publishing is like that, too. You wait and wait and wait-- because publishing takes forever. And then suddenly it's release week, and there's not nearly enough time for everything. And with each release, you forget everything and hope for the best, asking your publicist the same questions and tweeting the same tweets.
I apparently asked, very politely, if they'd given me a prescription for pain meds. Four times! Because I kept forgetting the answer. Because medicine is magic.
Point being that time moves very strangely around publishing and surgery, and as long as you smile and thank everyone several times, you'll probably do okay.
9. EVERYTHING INSIDE YOU GETS REARRANGED FOREVER LIKE A SNOWGLOBE THAT GOT REPEATEDLY STABBED.
My stomach is a hot mess right now. The outside is all bruising and glue and weird shapes, and the inside feels shaken up and destroyed.
Just like my heart feels after I finish a book.
Each story... changes you. You learn about yourself as a writer and a person, and the process of first drafting and editing leaves lasting impressions. You're not the same after becoming a writer. Sometimes I think about quitting, and then I can't imagine what I would do with my time, with my thoughts. I'm creative, but not creative enough to contemplate a life without writing.
My gallbladder, though? I don't miss it a bit.
10. YOU ARE UNIQUE AND MESSED UP, AND THAT'S OKAY.
The doctor said that I had a uniquely floppy gallbladder. That in the 10k+ cholecystectomies he's done, mine was the easiest, because the damn thing was barely attached.
Which, frankly, terrified me. I mean, are all my innards sub-par? Am I barely held together? Could I fly apart at any moment?
But no, he assured us. There is no normal. Everyone's organs are unique. Everyone's insides are weird in different ways. And that's okay. He even let me keep the troublesome gallstone that was blocking my duct and making my life hell--and the thing is beautiful, like a faceted, polished D20. I'm kind of amazed that all my pain was caused by this glorious, horrible, scary, freaky, brilliant monster rock that I made out of cholesterol.
You have something like that inside you, too.
You have a story to tell, something unique to contribute. And you will have hard times, and writing will challenge you, and you will want to give up. But always remember that you have something no one else has. Maybe it's a floppy gallbladder or a delightful voice or an amazing ability to plot. Hell, maybe it's all of that and a bag of sparkly gallstones. Point is: Do your thang. Have a great time. Be you. Because you're awesome.
And that's totally not the painkillers talking.