Die Another Day

Trigger warning in this post for abusive relationships.

I got an edit letter today from a new editor and it crushed me like a grape.


Some of the things in it, I wasn’t surprised by. I had a general feeling of not-quite-right when I wrote those parts, but I wasn’t sure, so I kept them because, overall, I liked them and I think part of me just wanted them to fit, so badly.

But other things in the letter completely threw me for a loop, and what it all boiled down to was that what she read in the manuscript and what I had been trying to write in the manuscript were two completely different things.

My clear, utter failure made me want to lie down and die.

But here’s the thing. (You knew there had to be a “but,” didn’t you?) I didn’t actually die. And this won’t actually kill me. And, in the end, I embrace these moments of life reaffirmation for the reminder that there is no greater peace than that which is achieved through struggle, there is no greater appreciation than that which is gained through loss, and there is no one I’d rather be than someone who has fought and lived to see another day.

Besides…there are worse things in the world.

I know. I used to hate it when people said that to me, and you might still hate that platitude after you read this. But for me, that reminder, that there is worse, and I have lived it, is usually the most effective way to pull me out of those blue moods, when the world has contracted to the most painful pinprick of a moment, in which I want to lie down and die.

In fact, once upon a time, I lived a life so different from the one I live today that I look at photos of myself from back then—a decade ago, now—and I know that most of my regrets come from that particular period in my life. Because I can still transport myself back there, with just the wrong word or a misplaced thought. It has taken a decade, and will continue to take the decades ahead, for me to accept those experiences as a vital part of me, in spite of how dead they made me feel.

The story is this: I got married at a young age and had a baby within the first year. I supported us financially, but I traveled a lot for work (like, five days a week, every week, except for two weeks at Christmas) and my then-husband had a low-paying nine-to-five job, so he did the bulk of the childcare during weekday evenings.

It was not a good relationship. Over the course of our marriage, I grew increasingly wary of being alone with my husband. I began dreading going home because I didn’t want to be called stupid, or overweight, and I didn’t want to be blamed and harangued for him oversleeping and being late for work. I hated that I wasn’t allowed to tell my child that I loved him. It inevitably triggered an angry protest. What about me? I love him, too! Tell him that we love him, not that you love him.

I used to cry in my hotel rooms at night, away from my baby and away from any tether to myself. I felt like I was constantly flailing, trying to find purchase, and it was so incessant that it became my normal. I withdrew from my family and friends. I stopped sewing. I stopped writing. I stopped creating.

Only now, years out, after I’ve learned more about relationship violence and how it can manifest in ways other than physical abuse, do I understand how skilfully my now-ex-husband diminished me. I was afraid to say anything lest it be wrong. I was afraid to make decisions lest they be wrong. I was just wrong.

I—the real, fundamental me—had lain down and died.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to my final realization that this was a bad, bad relationship. There were also a lot of factors that contributed to my ex-husband gaining primary custody of our son, and a lot of them came down to how I played the traditional “male provider” role in the marriage. I have my son for weekends, school vacations, and summers. I pay child support. I am a noncustodial mother, and the ridiculous—absolutely ridiculous—stigma attached to that status is a topic for another post, some other time. But suffice it to say that I not only had to find the strength to resurrect myself out of that marriage, but I also spent the year during my separation and divorce, fighting the urge to lie down and die, over and over and over.

It was like getting the shittiest edit letter ever and not being able to do anything about it. The twenty-six-and-some years of my life story had already been written in stone. No deleting huge passages so that the pain would never have to happen, or rearranging blocks of text so that the college degree came easy. Not even any fine tuning, so that words were softened, paths were widened, and friendships strengthened.

I believe there is no greater peace than that which is achieved through struggle, there is no greater appreciation than that which is gained through loss, and there is no one I’d rather be than someone who has fought and lived to see another day.

I truly, truly believe this. With the help of so many beloved friends and family, I came out of that time of my life transformed for the better. I lost, and I live with that loss every day. But I’m alive, and I rejoice in my life, and that it what made the difference in the way that I view things like edit letters.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-19433-1386577562-28[1]Not failures. Second chances. An opportunity to rewrite someone’s life story. And, in doing so, take back pieces of my own.

So…back to this morning, when I read this edit letter that bowled me over with the immense weight of my own shortcomings. I read it, and then I took a few minutes for silent self-loathing and dejection before I let the little know-it-all in my brain wake up and remind me that I had chosen this editor specifically because I knew she would make me grow as a writer. I chose her because I wanted a challenge. I chose her because I wanted to learn from her, and in learning, live. Lying down and dying would defeat the purpose.

All of this to say…for those of you out there struggling with rejection from agents or publishers, for those of you who get harsh feedback from critique partners or depressing edit letters that make you want to lie down and die…

Don’t. Please don’t. Cry. Rage. Tether yourself to fellow writers, or online classes, to gardening or TV shows or whatever keeps you from drowning. But don’t die. Live on, be who you are, and don’t let anyone else or even any perception you might have of yourself to diminish who you are. Get up, and write the story you want to live.

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25 Responses to Die Another Day

  1. accomodation says:

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  2. Main thought this morning.

    I die every day because: self-sabotage.

    • Audra North says:

      I am often guilty of self sabotage, too. In fact, more than any other obstacle, I think this is the biggest one for a lot of folks. It’s hard to keep writing sometimes when this profession is fraught with rejection and comparisons between oneself and other authors. But ultimately, I personally love the challenges that writing brings–often I learn so much more than just creative lessons.

      • Cherri Porter says:

        I have been thinking of this post and you all day. I keep coming back to that whole ‘devil you know’ saying. Sometimes I think it’s easier to stay, to remain–as in, to be the remains of some future self that has died in its present birthing–than it is to grow forward, because even though the present is so unsatisfying, so painful, we know it. It’s a predictable misery.

        So much of my life is about managing my own expectations and energy as my health often gets in the way of doing things I want / need to do. But, this managing also holds me back. A lot. I know what the consequences of getting overworked are right now, but if I do something I really want to do, that strips me of energy or challenges me in certain ways, what are those unknown consequences.

        • Audra North says:

          I think it’s very valid to stay where you are when the alternative is potential damage to your health, or your psyche, or if you just plain want to stay where you are. All valid. Everything valid. As long as it’s your choice, or the best choice for your corporal and/or mental sanity. But I also think it’s valid to test yourself, and to challenge yourself in ways that work for you, and in the end, what I’m really trying to get at is that we are not wrong simply because we live. We aren’t wrong because we’re somehow lesser people than others. Sometimes, we’re wrong in the way we approach things, but that’s why we have these awesome supportive writer friends and good editors and so forth.

          On good days, I tell myself that’s why I have my insecurities, too… :)

  3. *hugs you and never lets go* (This is a special, non-custodial mother hug).

  4. *weeping* Great post, Audra. Big hugs!! <3 <3 <3

  5. Julia Broadbooks says:

    *squeezes Audra tight* *and Del too*

    Audra, you made me cry! But I’ll look back and remember this post and remember all the reasons I have to be brave. Even when I’m afraid of being wrong or not perfect enough. Thank you.

    • Audra North says:

      Gack, I’m sorry! Inciting tears was not actually my goal. I was just thinking about how hard we all as writers have to work to get through rejection and setbacks, and how good it feels when we’re on the other side. Because you are wonderful, and so is every other person who tries or even wants to try to be something more–it took me so long to believe that I wasn’t wrong, even when I’m wrong…if that makes sense. :)

      • Julia Broadbooks says:

        No, it was a good cry. For all the mistakes we’ve made that led us here. For all my screw-ups, I can’t regret much since they were all my path to here. Here is pretty bitchin.

  6. Jackie Horne says:


    Sitting in admiration of your bravery, and your spirit. Hugs, indeed.

    How about writing a romance with a noncustodial mother as protagonist?? Would love to read it!

    • Audra North says:

      Thanks, Jackie. I have met so many incredible authors with so much spirit–the one we need to get through all manner of hard times in writing–and am constantly inspired by them all.

      I have often thought about writing an NCM romance, but so far I haven’t been able to do it without it turning sort of cheesy. I think I project too much onto those stories. But we’ll see! Maybe someday!

  7. Alexis Anne says:

    Awesome post. I will remember this the next time I am crushed…

    • Audra North says:

      Thanks, Lexy. I often find myself thinking about how easily we are bruised, but we keep going. Especially women, and especially those who so often don’t have a voice representing them anywhere but inside themselves, to themselves.

  8. Ana says:

    Wow Audra, thank you for sharing that. It is truly powerful perspective. I think we have all been tempted with the wish to re-edit our lives and the pity party that can bring on. To instead treasure transforming it and acknowledging the pain of that. Absolutely wow! And big bear hugs !

    • Audra North says:

      Thanks, Ana! It’s still a struggle for me often, not to get bogged down by regret and rejection, but it’s much less debilitating than it used to be. :) I’ve enjoyed being in publishing, actually, because it has reminded me of all those things I learned!

  9. Fiona McGier says:

    I used to travel a lot also, but that was before we had kids. I can’t imagine the pain of being away from your child so much, then having your baby taken away from you in the final blow to your self-image. How incredibly cruel.
    The fact that you can talk about it without crying, or meaning to cause crying, is a testament to your strength. Huge metaphorical hugs to you, along with pats on the back.
    What’s that poster slogan? “Some days it’s just too much trouble to chew through the restraints”. Keep on chewing… and keep on writing!

  10. Christine Epp says:

    Hi Audra ‘waves from twitterverse’ – thanks for sharing such a personal story with us. You are such a strong woman, and it is a testament to that strength that you keep on fighting. Write, rage, (perhaps even write down your rage!), and keep trying. And know that there are many out there who support you (including your personal motivator :-)

  11. Bona says:

    I know it can sound stupid and selfish but ‘there are worse things that could happen to me’ is one of my favourite personal mantras. I find it reassuring when something nasty happens to me.
    There’s a whole world of disgraces out there that I’m not suffering. It’s not a very nice thought, but it works.
    The second step is usually -at least for me- to think not only what it’s not, but also what it’s really happening, the good things I have in my life.
    And that’s the moment when I put everything in context and then I start feeling well.