Juggling too many hamsters

Hamsters hamsters everywhere!

Between canadiansuzanne‘s son’s hamster, snarkydork_jodi‘s hamster, wicked_wish‘s posting of this adorable hamster-cupcake video, and my offhand comment likening writing fiction to washing dishes while juggling hamsters, I think the cosmos is trying to convey a hamster-illustrated message upon me. (I guess birds was too subtle.) And this metaphysical hamster-dispatch, I believe, is that I’ve got too many hamsters in the air.

Guess now would be a good time to revisit the whole “reinvention” thing. I’ve had friends who’ve “reinvented” themselves. Some have done it multiple times and afterwards they seem pretty much the same to me–maybe with a new wardrobe or new job or some-such, but fundamentally still them.

I’ve never properly understood the underlying motivation that prompts these episodes of self-overhaul. Even after major life changes–like our relocation to Georgia and the loss of my old day job–I didn’t feel like I was reinventing anything. It was the same old me, but in a new place doing different things.

I still don’t get it with regard to the nature of people and personalities, but I think I do understand the mindset and mood that drives it. Sort of. It’s a profound sense of discontent with the grounded and fundamental beliefs or assumptions about yourself, a dissatisfaction with deep underpinnings that require more than a few tweaks or a change in venue.

I’ve been feeling that way about my writing of late. With my frustration about obtaining the “next level,” and my desperation at ever breaking into the Big 3, I’m left with an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction–and dropped hamsters. Add onto that the glaring inability to make anything remotely like a decent living on short stories (who can survive on $.05/word??), and my failure at maintaining progress on my novels, and I’m left floundering in a big ole morass of reproachful hamsters at my feet.

After wrestling with that for a bit, I think I’ve come up with a solution: I need to put down some hamsters.

What does this mean on a non-abstract, “am I putting down this Siberian hamster or that Roborovskii hamster” level? I dunno, I’m still working on that. But I do know I’m feeling pretty fragmented and way over-stressed these days.

I want to make a living doing what I love, which is writing. That hasn’t changed, nor will it. But what I write, what I focus on, and where I concentrate my efforts, I think that needs a realign. I need to reorganize my priorities or I’m going to burn out. And if I burn out on writing, well, I may as well burn out on life.

Writing Stuff

New Words/Editing:
– 1600 on a freelance project. Several editing passes, polished, and sent off to the client. Payment received in less than 24 hours.
– 100 on the Swan Lake story. I shouldn’t have put it down the other day. I was on the verge of hitting flow, and now I seem to have lost my place. And there’s another hamster on the rug, dammit.

basletum‘s interview of me for his “Give it Meaning” column.

– 9-day no grabbie from JJA at F&SF.

I think that might’ve been a dwarf hamster. Tossed him too high and now he’s quivering on top of a bookshelf.

Club 100 For Writers


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40 Responses to Juggling too many hamsters

  1. mabfan says:

    Reinvention of self can be an important mental step.

    A few years ago, I chose to leave my job and I guess you could say I “reinvented” myself as a full-time writer for one year. I managed to be more productive during that year than I ever had before.

    At the end of that year, by taking a new job, I “reinvented” myself again, this time as an editor. I have to admit that both life changes resulted in a more positive outlook.

  2. dream_wind says:

    >> After wrestling with that for a bit, I think I’ve come up with a solution: I need to put down some hamsters.

    I think this is what people mean when they “re-invent” themselves. They realise that they have chosen their path, but not necessarily their method of transport.

    Either that, or they realise they made a big mistake and need to change paths completely. That’s what I’m doing with uni; in retrospect, choosing IT as a career rather than going with academia straight off.

    I don’t know what your solution is. I think you’ve found your path, but need to rethink your means of travel. Regardless, I know you will find your way.

  3. safirasilv says:

    I find it interesting that several other writers I know have posted similar things recently–and I’ve certainly been feeling it, although I haven’t posted about it, because that would have meant breaking through my current inability to form coherent sentences. (I can edit other people’s incoherent ones, so I’m keeping that hamster flying. The others have hit the ground and have run under various pieces of furniture, where I hope they’re safe from the cats.)

    Clearly every writer steps back and reevaluates periodically, and those of us at this career stage–the getting published regularly but not exactly making a living–stage probably do it more often than those who are either making a living, however tenuous, or not even ready to think about it yet. But it’s interesting to me that it seems to come in waves across the internet.

    Are we infecting each other with self-doubt? Do we all read each other’s blogs (Or worse, those of writers with multiple book contracts and a whole different set of problems) when we’re having a Bad Writing Moment and make ourselves feel worse?

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Huh. That is interesting. Writerly angst as collective unconscious. Right now I’m finding reading other writers’ blogs to be both inspiring and depressing–both successes and obstacles interchangeably.

      Some famous and successful writer (drawing a blank) said something along the lines of: writing is a profession where if someone can be discouraged from doing it, then they should be. I’ve always held that as a personal challenge. I will persevere, dammit!

      But I need to either learn to ignore the hamster carnage I leave in my wake or find some creative way to keep them all in the air. ‘Cause if one more hamster hits me in the head, I’m getting a tennis racket.

      I should hunt down the exact quote, print it out in a huge, black font, and post it over my desk . . .

  4. I think you should be totally focusing on your picture book deal, then working on a novel. 🙂

    • Eugie Foster says:

      I think you should be totally focusing on your picture book deal

      I absolutely agree. That picture book hamster’s spinning in the air, and I’m diving over furniture and crashing into walls trying to keep him afloat.

      then working on a novel.

      I agree in principle, but man, whenever I sit down and go “novel now” everything freezes up and it’s nothing but a rain of miffed hamsters. I’m smacking head first into that novel wall, and the only way I can shake lose some writing is by switching gears and delving back into shorts. So. Frustrating!

  5. ex_dotificu says:

    Hi Eugie,

    I’ve hesitated to throw my two cents at you, because even though I’ve been lurking on your LJ for a long time and feel I “know” you, I’m a STRANGER.

    a strange one, even

    I think you should find a way to focus on writing novels. Probably mg and ya novels, from what I’ve read of your short fiction. But whatever novels call to you the most, of course. You’ve got an impressive list of short story credits, but I don’t think that’s the way for writers to build fan bases–novels are. That’s where you’ll find your reading audience.

    So I agree with , re-write the mg into a pb, then write more novels.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      My best friends are strange . I’m thinking it’s obligatory.

      I think you should find a way to focus on writing novels. Probably mg and ya novels

      Y’know, for some reason, it hadn’t occurred me to write another middle-grade novel. I’ve been fixating on an adult-length novel, or even a YA one, and just totally dropping hamsters every which way in the attempt. Maybe I should give another middle-grade novel a go. At least I know I can do that, since I’ve done one before.

      Huh. Thank you, Dot. That was really illuminating. I feel quite the dimmy for not having considered it myself, but I’m grateful for the prod in the ribs.

  6. palmerwriter says:

    I know just how you feel, Eugie. I want to make a living writing too, and have made more this year than in all previous years (which isn’t saying a lot), but yet I’m still toiling away in a day job I hate, feeling I am meant for better things.

    I got really burned out on focusing solely on science fiction after Paizo killed Amazing Stories, where my interview with Stephen Baxter was slated to appear, and I got into business journalism, and suddenly I had money and print publication credits. After selling a short story, though (to a brand new, very small press mag that hasn’t come out yet or paid me), I’ve gotten just enough confidence to be crazy enough to make a go at fiction again, and have planned out a few novel ideas and started on one (though there is an intense amount of research I must do, and I am driven to see it through simply because, unlike my other ideas, I have a clear ending in mind for this one). My point is, I know how it is, and I don’t have any answers, other than continue to explore your freelancing options. I’m delving into copywriting, which is tough to break in, though I’ve had some success. So keep plugging away at that stuff, and turn to fiction when you need a break. And don’t worry too much about the Big 3. You’ve been published in Realms, and that’s just as good in my opinion. Analog and Asimov’s are hard SF, and you don’t seem to write very much of that, and if JJA doesn’t quite grab your work, alas, maybe one day he will. I read on his blog once that he doesn’t even like fantasy, which is strange, considering the huge amount they publish, but ever since he started running those Matthew Hughes Guth Bandar stories, I’ve held his taste in considerable question. 🙂

  7. sartorias says:

    Many people find new changes exciting, others feel they have a legitimate cause to be the total center of attention. (Witness elaborate brial ceremonies persisting, even though these days half the time the bride has been living with the groom for a time, so the ‘change in state’ is entirely symbolic).

    Changes in state used to go with new clothes that signified the change of status, and so forth. Women didn’t get much behind maiden to married, but in the nunneries there were ranks, and of course men had rankings in just about everything. Even the boarding schools had status changes–you could wear your cap over your eye when you reached the fifth form, and at the back of your head at sixth, etc.

    In short…human nature.

  8. mtfay says:

    I wonder if there is enough of a demand for the kind of freelance writing you’re doing to do it for a living? I know a couple of freelance writers who focus on specific areas who make about $65K/year (one is in computers, the other writes pharmaceutical literature:P). It would seem that perhaps the sorts of things you are writing freelance might be reworked to go to parents magazines, education magazines, that sort of thing, which might be parleyed into a sustainable living to support your fiction writing?

    • Eugie Foster says:

      I’ve got several fairly decent-paying and longish-term freelance gigs in the “maybe” stages right now. I’m waiting to hear back from clients, etc. to see if any of them pan out. But yeah, freelance seems to be the way to go if I want to write and eat.

  9. kittymel says:

    facing burn-out is a difficult thing – i can be hard to know what to keep and what to let go of in order to save yourself, and once you do figure out what to let go of, I find actually letting go of it even harder. I’ve recently come to the realization that I am an over-working perfectionist and the only way to avoid burn-out is to change that pattern and fill the gaps with more enriching things. Don’t know if it helps, but you have an ally here in the burn-out war – watch out hamsters – here we come!

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Y’know, the funny thing is, I would never have considered myself a perfectionist until recently. Growing up, I was pretty content to let things fall into the half-assed realm, but as soon as I discovered that I really cared about doing something well, all those years of letting things slide and not fretting the little stuff came back to smack me in the face. I end up not knowing how to de-stress and I can’t seem to quit taking new stuff on. Sigh. *hands you a hamster*

  10. yukinooruoni says:

    I have a CD of The Hamster Dance in a couple versions, if that’ll help 😀

  11. keesa_renee says:

    My favorite way of dealing with an excess of hamsters: :hands Eugie a tennis racket: How’s your forehand?

    :huggles: Truly, I do sympathize with you. And empathize.

    Just be sure to figure out your favorite hamsters before you go lobbing them willy-nilly over the backyard fence! :holds out hands for hamster:

  12. wordswoman says:

    How ironic, Eugie…here I sit, with two of my three published stories having appeared in one of those “Big 3,” and yet I am keenly envious of YOU. Each time our virtual paths cross I am impressed anew with your work ethic, your long list of publications, your professionalism, and the way you are able to self-motivate and produce stories regularly. Meanwhile, I struggle to write a paragraph without someone standing behind me with a cattle prod!

    I consider you one of my role models: a working writer, dedicated to her craft. Email me anytime via my blog if you want to talk shop or swap story drafts.

    Hugs & virtual chocolate,
    Jaye Lawrence

    • Eugie Foster says:

      I consider you one of my role models: a working writer, dedicated to her craft.

      Seriously? Oh, wow. I’m touched and honored. Thank you for your wonderful words of support and encouragement. You totally brightened my day.

  13. fahkingnut says:

    From someone looking in from the far outside, I don’t think re-inventing is the problem. Could it be the pace? If you’re still taking the adderall or any of those type meds, they’ll turbo-charge your anxiety at odd times. I get that effect on Focalin, which doesn’t supposedly do that, one of the reasons I don’t take it all of the time.

    Maybe all you need to do is use fewer hamsters? Uh, you said that. I suck. I can only do one thing at a time. If I’m writing, then all I’m doing is writing. If I’m submitting, then that’s all I’m doing, all writing is finished by this point. Part of my coping mech with my ADD, before I knew I had ADD. Back to you, maybe you could juggle what you have to completion if you scheduled days and blocks of time for each?

    Love & Hugs,

    • Eugie Foster says:

      I don’t normally have a problem with anxiety–beyond my fear of public speaking, and of course I’m an introvert–but yeah, I definitely need fewer hamsters. *hugs* You and me’ll just keep trying to keep too many of those buzzballs from splatting on the rug, K?

  14. *growls* You can’t juggle Cutie! *pulls in claws*

    Speaking of rejection:

    9-day no grabbie from JJA at F&SF

    Don’t you hateloathehate those! I got one this week too.

    I think that might’ve been a dwarf hamster. Tossed him too high and now he’s quivering on top of a bookshelf.

    I’m liking this imagery.

    As for reinventing, I’d call it growth. I’m going through a growth spurt myself, trying to figure out how mewithouthusband fits into the world. But the process is disabling my muse. I’ve lost all flow. Club 100 gives me words on paper, but not much more. Rejections continue to pile up and not a sale in sight. Is this growth? Maybe. Like you said, if I could be discouraged, I shouldn’t be doing it at all. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the sense of accomplishment from doing jobs around the house.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Wasn’t going to juggle Cutie! Honest!

      As far as the growth/lost muse/etc. go, I think you’re doing amazing. The sales will come, and house jobs are important to get done. I bet your muse is just revving up. I find writing to be an excellent catharsis. My best stuff has come out of times when I’ve been the most off-balance, emotionally. Maybe your creative energies will be likewise focused?

  15. klandaghicat says:

    Ummmm… remember they’re just hamsters, $5.99 a pop? (ducks for cover, JK!) Start juggling SKUNKS! LOL!

  16. basletum says:

    But I do know I’m feeling pretty fragmented and way over-stressed these days.
    I want to make a living doing what I love, which is writing. That hasn’t changed, nor will it. But what I write, what I focus on, and where I concentrate my efforts, I think that needs a realign. I need to reorganize my priorities or I’m going to burn out. And if I burn out on writing, well, I may as well burn out on life.

    You and me both. Best bet is to step back, organize your thoughts, mesh all the disparate elements into a daily routine.

    And as for the novel problem, I’m with you there. Whenever I’ve tried a novel in the past, I’ve ended up with a load of short story ideas instead. Eventually I’ll get the rough draft completed (I’m 2/3rd the way there) but will probably have a gazillion hastily scribbled ideas for short stories before I’m through with it.

  17. aliettedb says:

    I need to reorganize my priorities or I’m going to burn out.

    Hum, this happens. You’ve been really busy (well, since I know you, you’ve always been a really busy and prolific person, but lately with the whole freelance thing you’ve been even more busy). Maybe too busy.

    Maybe you do need a break, and some reorganization.

    But I insist that you need not be dissatisfied with your writing. You write terrific stories.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Thank you, sweetie. I’ve been tossing around the idea of forcing myself to take one day, or even just one afternoon a week off on a regular basis. I think an enforced change a pace might due me good. I lose sight of the other stuff, and myself, when all I’m doing is nose-to-the-grindstone in my office library.

  18. Be kind to hamsters week declared. If you can’t juggle them properly, don’t pick them up!
    Interview is way cool.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Poor, poor hamsters!

    The hamster metaphor actually made me laugh!–Jodi

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