Note: This is one of my “Jeaniene talks about personal stuff” posts, so skip if you only want professional news or publishing/book updates.
I read every note readers send to me, and today, I read one that brought me to tears. This is not the first time this has happened, by the way. When readers pour out their hearts to me, they’re also reaching in and grabbing hold of mine, and it’s not as icy or hardened as I sometimes pretend it to be ;).
Anyway, this reader was thanking me for my Night Prince series heroine, Leila, because she could really relate to Leila’s nasty inner voice. I won’t go into more detail about her letter because I don’t want to violate her privacy, but this reader’s bravery in revealing her own struggle inspired me to reveal something I don’t think I’ve said in pubic before:
I based Leila’s dark, negative inner voice off my own.
This is one of the few times I’ve based a significant character trait off of myself. Most of my heroines are quite different than me, actually. For example, I love to sit on the couch and read or watch TV. My heroines, on the other hand, love to go out, find trouble, kick ass and take names, sometimes with or without underwear (my Night Huntress readers will get that joke ;)). But I gave Leila the same cruel inner voice that I have, so it was easy for me to write those scenes because I have lots of first-hand experience. Now, just like Leila, I don’t “hear” an actual, audible voice. Instead, it’s more like a set of thoughts that tend to rear up in stressful situations in order to make them worse. Or, it shows up in happy moments to spoil them with predictions of doom. Unlike Leila, though, my dark inner voice never grew strong enough to drive me to a suicide attempt. But, back when I was a teen and simultaneously battling bulimia and bullying, it did cause me to fleetingly consider it (side note to any teens reading this: things DO get better, so hang in there! And if you need help, please, ask for it, either in person or from a helpline.)
I can’t tell you if it was my bulimia that created this dark inner voice or if this dark inner voice drove me to bulimia; that’s a chicken/egg sort of thing. But I can say that this harsh internal monologue was what played in my head when, as early as age twelve, I would force myself to throw up after almost every meal as punishment for not being as thin as I believed I was “supposed” to be. That harsh internal voice also lasted long past getting treatment for bulimia, and even long past finding the faith that caused me to base my self-worth on God’s love for me instead of on other people’s opinions of what I should or shouldn’t look like (or do, or say, etc., ad nauseam, etc.)
That dark inner voice is still with me today. Thankfully, it’s no longer constant and it’s also much quieter, but it has still made some bad days worse while also ruining good days, too. Plus, on a professional level, it has hijacked many, many writing days by filling me with doubt, angst and negativity, until the words come out at a crawl or sometimes not at all. It’s popping up even now, insinuating that sharing this in public will cause readers not to buy my books because if I have these doubts and I’m the author, then my books must be crap, so avoid them! And so on and so on.
Yet I am able to share this in public because I know not to trust my nasty inner voice, let alone to allow it to dictate my actions. It’s based in lies even if it does manage to randomly hit on a truth once in a while. Yes, to some readers, my books are crap, but you know what? That’s perfectly fine. Reading is subjective and one person’s perfume is another person’s poison. Imagine how dull the literary world – let alone life! – would be if everyone liked the same thing. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve disliked that other people have loved (The Great Gatsby and almost everything by Hemingway, just to name a few) while I’ve loved other books that some people haven’t liked (the entire romance genre is dissed by many, yet it’s my favorite genre, plus I love almost everything by Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe, and Moby Dick is a favorite, too, to throw in some classics.)
So, to the reader who wrote me to say that she is still struggling with her own dark inner critic, big hugs to you! So am I, and so is my heroine, Leila. Sometimes, we find our victories by still being in the fight instead of the fight being over with. That’s okay; it’s victory nonetheless. One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 56:3-4: “When I am afraid, I will trust in You; In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust, I will not be afraid.” For me, this reinforces that I shouldn’t be ashamed of my fears (or my struggles or even my failures) because the Psalmist says “when” I fear, not “if” I fear. The “I will not be afraid” at the end is, to me, a statement of hope for the future that transcends current circumstances or feelings. I might not be there yet, but in faith I keep putting one foot in front of the other.
For a more modern take, I give you a sampling of the lyrics to one of the songs on my current playlist. It’s called “The Fighter” by Gym Class Heroes. As I said in the beginning of this post, I’m not the literal kick-ass type, so you would find me in a boxing ring about two degrees before hell froze over :). But the boxer analogy below encapsulates the “fighting is the real victory” point I was trying to make, only in a far more succinct manner:
Until the referee rings the bell
Until both your eyes start to swell
Until the crowd goes home
What we gonna do, y’all?
Give ’em hell, turn their heads
Gonna live life til we’re dead
Give me scars, give me pain
Then just say to me, say to me, say to me
There goes a fighter…
So *raises glass* here’s to all the fighters out there, whatever you’re struggling with or fighting against!