, , , ,

1358111_52482665Like a lot of people with depression, end-of-year milestones can be difficult, which is why I don’t really like birthdays or New Year’s. I try to take care of myself and play things low-key during those times. The realist in me isn’t very fond of resolutions, although I can’t help but set a few goals that I usually keep to myself.

In my experience, creativity-based goals are the ones most likely to be achieved, so I don’t mind sharing them. I’m not holding myself to them, and although I get frustrated when I don’t keep to my schedule, I’m not going to beat myself up if I fall behind. It’s not helpful.

All of these are contingent on the world as we know it still being here by the end of the year. With my thanatophobia working overtime, I don’t take that as a given, and because I feel like I finally have some writing momentum over these last few months, it would just be my luck for the apocalypse to strike this year before I accomplish my life goals.

I had set an early 2018 release for THORNS, but that’s just not going to happen, because I have things I’m doing January and February. However, I hope to publish THORNS in October 2018, around the same time I published NOCTURNE in 2017. I need to do another personal edit, send it off to at least one professional editor, possibly two, then do the final personal edit and proofread.

Because I’ve had so much success writing in the company break room after work, I’m hoping to also have time during the extended editing process this Winter/Spring season to write two short horror novels that have been percolating in my head. One or both of them might be something I attempt to sell through traditional routes rather than self-publish, but I’m not sure yet. Both of them are a bit experimental for me, not least because they’d be short, but it’s not entirely unprecedented. WAR HOUSE was a short novel.

And speaking of WAR HOUSE, I’d like to rewrite that this summer. It was a good concept, but a bad plot, and if I had a bit of time to mold a better plot to fit the concept, I could still recycle a great deal of what I wrote in the original draft.

Beyond this summer, I’m not sure whether I have anything I have to write, so maybe I’ll start the fourth Thorns series novel, but I’m not holding myself to that, since NOCTURNE took so long to finalize. However, since I won’t publish ROSE RED (2) until I write PUPPETEER (4), I should probably write PUPPETEER (4) sooner rather than later.

As far as non-fiction-writing creativity goals, I’d like to write an average of one song a month. I think poetry is good for my brain, even if my brain isn’t good for poetry, and sometimes the Thorns series has required something rhyme-y. I may never do anything with my song-writing; it’s just something to try.

I’d also like to get back into jewelry-making, because I have a lot of supply inventory I’d like to eliminate. Who knows? The bug may return. And I’d also like to create a line for the Thorns series that I can sell in tandem with it. I’m partial to rose jewelry as it is. So I’m going to make an average of two necklaces per month.

Also, I set this blog up as a horror review site in addition to discussing writing and sharing my novels, but depression kept me from doing much with that. I’d like to write one full horror movie review per month.

Changing the Rhythm


, ,

1159420_96550296One of the biggest things I changed about my writing this year that made a huge difference was bringing my personal computer to work with me.

After I sign out from work, I take my computer to the break room and set it up on one of the high tables like a standing desk. I don’t plug in or connect to the wifi, so I’m not using any of their resources, just the empty space that isn’t otherwise being used. And without being able to get on the Internet or make a snack or do any of the other myriad things I distract myself with everywhere else, I literally can’t do anything else but write.

That gives me a good, dependable 700-1000 words in less than an hour before I endure traffic home (traffic is a over-stimulation issue for me—and many others, I’m sure) and start the long wind-down from the day. I also try to write another 700-1000 words at night, but my brain’s shutting down at that point, so it’s more difficult to focus. Plus, I have wifi at home, and other things I want to do, like watch mindless procedurals.

What did you change this year that made a difference in your writing?

Green Thumb


, , ,

1373911_93509324Just to be clear, I do not have a green thumb. Literally or in the sense most people use the phrase. I kept mint going pretty well back in college, could keep mini roses for a few months, and I grew snapdragons for a while, because those are hardy little buggers I’d totally grow again. I’d probably also do well with succulents. Plants require attention, and plants don’t purr, so I’m much less likely to give them said attention.

However, something happens when I’m in the middle of writing projects, when I’m devoted to the discipline of writing even when I don’t want to.

Other creative places in my brain start waking up. I stayed awake for an hour and a half because my brain wanted me to make jewelry again, and it wasn’t going to stop until it was finished designing, even though I can’t begin to work on jewelry until the new year.

In the middle of work, I’ll jot lyric snippets down on sticky notes when they pass through my head (because I learned a long time ago that if I don’t write The Thing down, it does not stay remembered). Oh yeah, I just decided one day that I wanted to try writing songs, even though poetry was never my forte and I don’t know how to write music. It might be a 2018 project to keep me from ruminating over the apocalypse. Seriously, folks, I’m making this up as I go, and it’s not like I’m certain I’ll ever share the songs with anyone.

I have a miniature notebook where I write down new story ideas, not to mention the notes I write in the margins of my big longhand notebooks or on other sticky notes. That’s the main thing. When I plant a creative tree, that tree keeps growing and putting out new branches, new leaves. It takes all my effort to prune the damn thing so I can get my projects done rather than start on a new story every other week, which would lead to a lot of chasing white rabbits and no finished works to show for it.

But that To Write list keeps getting longer, and I’m a long-form writer who can’t churn finished work out that quickly. The ideas have bottle-necked in my brain, which is a surefire way to make that brain sick. The only solution is to stop being creative, but I can’t stop being creative because it’s all I have at this point. I have my day-job, and I have this. I sacrificed a life for this. It consumes every waking moment. It’s not stopping, and it’s not getting better.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the inspiration. But I’m only one artist, and I only have so much time in a day. Never enough time. I’ve written over 250,000 words this year, and there’s still not enough time to move the stories through fast enough for me to keep up. Tell me to get up earlier in the morning to write more, and I will find you, tie you up, and tickle you with a redheaded centipede. Discipline is not the problem. Depression occasionally is—at the moment it’s there, but not an obstacle, so I’ll get as much done as I can while it’s not.

My problem is time. Always time. I could have fifty more years, but I could also only have a week. Even if I have fifty years, would it be enough to get everything down, everything out? If it’s a week, I have so many regrets, I’d rather have something to show for it.


Nocturne Release Day!


, , , , , , , , ,

coverAppropriately, this Halloween I’m facing my terrible dread at putting out total dreck by publishing my first novel, Nocturne, a beautifully gothic YA horror novel thirteen years in the making.

I just got the proofs in from Createspace, and they’re so beautiful I could spit. Covers by Combs did exceptional work on the cover and formatting design – I can’t recommend her enough. The paperback has been approved, and they should be ready to purchase at Amazon within a week (UPDATE: They are now available at Amazon!). In the meantime, the ebook is now available.

Seventeen-year-old Callie dreams nightmares every night. Now the nightmares want to meet her.

Amazon US:
Amazon UK:
Amazon Canada:
Amazon Australia:
Barnes & Noble:

Self-Publishing Addict


, ,

I’ve submitted everything to everywhere it needs to go. I’m just awaiting the paperback proof, which I expedited to hopefully get it on Oct. 31, but it may come on Nov. 1. All the moving parts are in motion. While I was initially dreading it, I think the anxiety has partially transitioned to excitement.

Aside from an embarrassing OCD loop episode during the finalization of the formatted files (how many times can you read over a blurb before losing your mind? do you really want to know?), I really like the self-publishing process. I like controlling the creative vision; I like being the boss of the process, not the employee. And seeing Nocturne in all my distribution bookshelves, all by itself, only makes me want to publish more. I’ve got the bug, y’all, and it’s dangerous.

I keep having to tell myself that while I have plenty of books in my trunk, they’re not near ready for publication yet. I need to be patient. Nocturne‘s just going to have to be by its lonesome for a while. It deserves the spotlight, though. I owe it that.

Nocturne/Halloween Playlist


, , , , , ,

coverBetween trying to finish a writing project, wrestling with ideas that keep coming to me, finalizing Nocturne for self-publication, preparing for NaNoWriMo, and dealing with a seriously brutal episode of depression, let’s just say it’s been quiet around here.

So I thought I’d give you something to listen to.

Usually, around this time of year, I’m listening to my Halloween playlist round the clock, but for some reason, my brain just wants to listen to Legally Blonde: The Musical over and over and over again, with the occasional side of Sara Bareilles’ Brave Enough or Lady Gaga’s Artpop. At least Delain’s Moonbathers and Nightwish’s Imaginaerium also get an honorable mention—they have good atmosphere.

However, when I’m working on Nocturne, I crave the playlist I created for it. When I wrote the first draft, that was before I had iTunes or an iPod and still played my CDs on a boombox, but I was writing at night, so I had to write in silence. But since then, I’ve amassed a fairly solid fan soundtrack (can the author be a fan?) that set the mood for rewrites and edits, with songs that sometimes reminded me so strongly of elements in the story that it was kind of scary.

It just so happens that, since Nocturne is a horror novel, the playlist would do wonderfully as a Halloween set. So if you want to grab a few of these from your music library of choice for Halloween or if you want to prepare for Nocturne the way your humble author does, here’s my curated playlist. (I tried to make sure an artist wasn’t featured more than three times.)

“Asleep” – Emilie Autumn
“Avalanche” – Epica
“Cold Caress” – Sirenia
“Coma White (acoustic)” – Marilyn Manson
“Crushed Dreams” – Tristania
“Dark Shines” – Muse
“Dead Boy’s Poem” – Nightwish
“Dead is the New Alive” – Emilie Autumn
“End of the Dream” – Evanescence
“Enjoy the Silence” – Lacuna Coil
“The Essence of Silence” – Epica
“Fallen Star” – Kamelot
“Fate” – Tristania
“Haunted” – Evanescence
“Here’s to the Fall” – Kamelot
“I Know Where You Sleep” – Emilie Autumn
“I Make the Mistake” – Mortal Love
“I’ll See You in Your Dreams” – Moonspell
“Insomnia” – Kamelot
“It’s the Fear” – Within Temptation
“Lights” – Ellie Goulding
“The Lonely” – Christina Perri
“Lost” – Within Temptation
“Lotus” – Tristania
“Loverman” – Nick Cave
“Me” – Paula Cole
“Monster” – Panzer AG
“Not Alone” – Sara Bareilles
“People are Strange” – Johnny Hollow
“A Song to Say Goodbye” – Placebo
“Restless” – Within Temptation
“Sleepwalkers Dream” – Delain
“Suffocating Right” – Neuroticfish
“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” – Marilyn Manson
“Tear You Apart” – She Wants Revenge
“Turn the Lights Out” – Delain
“Uninvited” – Alanis Morissette
“Virtue and Vice” – Delain
“Whispers in the Dark” – Skillet
“World of Glass” – Tristania

Also, if you’re interested in my Pinterest board for Nocturne, you can find it here. I think I created it sometime after the first major rewrite, and it’s been lovely visual atmosphere inspo for all subsequent edits. If you like those creepy illustrations from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, you’ll like the board.

Cover Reveal – Nocturne


, , , , , , ,


I’m shooting for a Halloween release at this point. It’s no gimmick. That’s really just the way it’s turned out.

Shout out to the fabulous Covers by Combs for the custom cover design and formatting.

It’s been eight years since the car accident that stole Callie’s voice and plagued her with terrifying nightmares every night. Four years since her family wrote her off as a lost cause and abandoned her at a boarding school for troubled teens. Despite friction with some of the other residents, seventeen-year-old Callie has nevertheless thrived in a place where they don’t expect her to be normal, but she’s not sure she’s able to thrive anywhere else.

Then one night, a man who calls himself the Guardian pulls her into a subterranean world filled with all the monsters from her dreams and ruled by the Night Mare herself. Down in the darklands, Callie’s nightmarish creations worship her. Down in the darklands, she isn’t tired or sick or hungry.

Down in the darklands, she can speak.

As her waking life deteriorates under the weight of exhaustion and other complications, Callie’s nightly forays into the nightmare world also begin to take their toll. And it’s getting harder to tell which world is really the nightmare.

What Fresh Hell


, , , , , ,

496265_22437560bycristinaAt the time I wrote the first draft of Nocturne, then called Nightmare, I was at a strange place in my experience of the horror genre. I’d read most the RL Stine oeuvre from children’s books to young adult, then devoured Christopher Pike. Dracula was (and still is) one of my favorite novels, and Jekyll & Hyde was my favorite musical. I’d started reading Stephen King and Thomas Harris in secret, because my parents thought I was too young for them. I’d been introduced to a handful of horror movies, but only PG-13 at the time. I loved horror, but I was still fresh enough to it that I hadn’t started seeing the mechanics of the genre—the conventions, the cliches, the timing, that sort of thing.

It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I really started watching all the rated-R horror movies I’d always wanted to watch, and it’s been steady consumption since then. But I wrote Nightmare in the summer between the end of high school and the start of college, before I’d introduced myself to Freddy Krueger or Michael Myers or the Wishmaster, before I’d experienced the sensuality of Coppola’s Dracula or the brutality of Saw and Hostel, before my family had started bingeing on The Twilight Zone every New Year’s, before I knew about the meta-horror of Scream or the way a person can use horror trends to gauge a whole society’s fears.

Between the first draft and the first rewrite, I had about nine years to develop a finer palate for horror appreciation as well as my skills as a writer. I added a few new elements to the story to add some much needed meat to the bones (the first draft was a little more than half the size of the final draft) and fixed the beginning and ending. (Beginnings are always my weak spot, but that original ending was truly awful, and even at the time I knew how unsatisfying it was .) It only needed one more reworking to fix some of those new elements before I was finally satisfied with the body of the novel, somewhere around two years later, and set forth polishing it.

And now here we are, thirteen years from the first draft. I don’t know how many versions there have been—somewhere between twelve and fourteen. It’s a love letter to the horror genre, a sprawling examination of demons that have plagued me from puberty through adulthood, though I don’t suffer nightmares nearly as often as you might think. Nocturne itself, a novel of nightmares, isn’t based solely on mine. I made sure a few of them make a cameo, because how could I resist?

Parasomnias (sleep disorders) have intrigued me more over the last few years, though, because I started experiencing the hypnagogic hallucinations commonly referred to as exploding head syndrome, which sounds a lot more alarming than it is.

I sometimes wake up to the sound of a terrible scream that’s almost mechanical but still sounds so very human—except I experience the sound as though it comes from inside my head. It isn’t thought-sound. I experience it as actual sound. I’ve also woken up to thumps and knocking. On occasion, I’ll think the cat has jumped onto my legs or I’ll think someone’s tapping me awake, but nothing is there (touch hallucination, a bit rarer).

Just last night, I had some trouble in the middle of the night passing between dream state and waking consciousness with some auditory hallucinations—voices of my family that I knew were from evil spirits, actual voices that woke me up because they were heard and not just thought, but I kept waking up first in the dream before waking up for real, so it got a little confusing.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon, and though these auditory hypnagogic hallucinations are usually accompanied by a sense of dread or the feeling that what it’s coming from is evil or demonic, once I’m awake, the worst I feel is a bit unsettled. As long as these things don’t repeat when I’m completely awake, I calm down pretty fast. It helps knowing what’s going on and not actually worrying about evil spirits in my bedroom. I think if I had visual hallucinations as creepy as the auditory, I’d be much more freaked out. It would be a lot harder for me to convince myself that what I’m seeing isn’t real.

And strangely, just this year, I’ve also had markedly more nightmares than usual. I’ve always had bad dreams, but they say the difference between a nightmare and a bad dream is that a nightmare wakes you up because your brain can’t handle it anymore. The tornado dreams I’ve had all my life used to create tornadoes all around me, with only the threat they’d hit. Now, however, they’re hitting. Last night (after the hallucination/evil spirit nightmares), I dreamed interstellar grasshoppers were crawling into people’s mouths and taking them over. The zombie dreams are getting more intense. One night, I woke up from a tooth-crunching dream with aching teeth—I assume from grinding them, but for a second, I thought I’d really crunched my teeth down. I got a sleep guard pretty soon after that.

Sometimes I’ll die in a dream and jolt awake with a hypnic jerk, which I’m also prone to, and there’s a theory that hypnagogic hallucinations are just hypnic jerks translated into sensory representation because the brain gets its wires crossed.

But I’m a little strange, because about seventy-five percent of the time, even though I still have residual terror in my system, I’ll be so intrigued by the nightmare upon waking that I’ll deliberately go back to sleep to try to go back into the dream and see what happens. Side effect of being a horror geek, I suppose, and I’m always on the lookout for the next horror idea. I won’t lie—I’ve come up with a few good ones by doing that.

Here’s hoping that Nocturne is just the first fresh hell I can share with you. Because these hells are far preferable to the ones I have to wake into.




, , , , , ,

The RuinsThere were mixed reviews for this movie among friends and critics, but it’s one of my personal favorites, a regular go-to for a bit of character-driven body horror. The more I watch the movie, the more complicated it gets underneath the rather unoriginal, shiny exterior, which is why I feel The Ruins is seriously worth a horror fan’s time. As a shiny movie, it might also appeal to the non-horror fan, if they have the stomach for it.

Plants are a funny thing to make a villain, and I can see how some people might not go for the idea of carnivorous plants as something that can get your skin crawling, but it’s been a bit of a peripheral fear of mine. One of the shorts in the Creepshow anthology, the one featuring Stephen King as a simple-minded farmer baffled by a meteorite with a gooey interior that causes grass to grow on everything like a fungus has stuck with me for years—hits me again every time the parsley gets overgrown and starts trailing onto the porch.

Forests do get nutrients from death of both flora and fauna; creeping vines can infest and infect a whole grove; the fight for sunlight in rainforests is a brutal one; oils on leaves or thorns can cause serious damage or horrible death, all in the name of self-protection, and all without an as-yet demonstrable consciousness, which isn’t to say that plants don’t respond—which is the freakiest thing that I just said. We’re surrounded by plants, but too often, they’re just scenery or accessory to us, and that’s a mistake.

All that to say that, as much as I love my backyard and adore big trees and roses, I still find plants kind of creepy. So I can get into the mentality of villainous plants more quickly than some people. What can I say? I’m an ideal horror audience. (Not so much on board with the villainous vegetarians, but Trolls 2 is still worth a watch as one of the most awesome terrible movies ever made.)

After a cryptic prologue, The Ruins opens on a bunch of young, pretty twenty-somethings on vacation in Mexico—bikinis, alcohol, sun, sex, all pretty much the accoutrements of a typical horror movie, which is why it’s easy to think The Ruins is going to follow the usual, unoriginal punishing formula. Nothing new to see here, folks. Situation normal; all fucked up.

And as a trope, The Ruins definitely falls under the label of Tourists Behaving Badly. Or, more specifically, American Tourists Behaving Badly, although they’re tagging along behind a couple Germans and Greeks. It’s easy to roll your eyes when they flash money to do The Forbidden Thing, when one of the characters takes pictures of the Cute Locals in their Native Environment, and when the emergent leader of the group declares with absolute, desperate certainty, “This doesn’t happen! Four Americans on a vacation don’t just disappear!” People disappear all the fucking time, man, and not just on vacation. Naive affluent illusions, shattered.

However, though The Ruins works within the framework of a fairly typical twenty-somethings-suffer horror movie, it’s what the screenwriter (same as the author of the original novel, which I plan to read one of these days) and the director did within that framework that’s worth a second glance.

I don’t think The Ruins would have done so well without an exceptional cast. Shawn Ashmore is one of my favorite underrated actors (actually, I’m a fan of both Ashmore twins, and they both have feet in the horror genre). Jonathan Tucker is a familiar face in the genre, and he has a quiet, odd-faced, hard-bodied intensity to him that serves him well. Jena Malone is also a surprising force of nature despite her slim build. Sergio Calderon plays the lead Mayan, and he might be a face you recognize, but you don’t know from where. I think he lends some unexpected gravitas in a role where nothing that he says is understood, but his face and tone speaks volumes. There’s no weak link in the cast, although the script has some weak points that don’t do them any service. One of the best things about this film, though, is that whoever you think the characters are at the beginning, they subvert those expectations by the end, which is the marker of good storytelling.

The basic premise of the movie goes something like this: The tourists visit Mayan ruins that aren’t on any of the maps to meet up with a group of archaeologists. They trespass onto forbidden land and touch the strange vine that seems to grow on the ruins and nothing else. A band of Mayans who apparently protect the area around the ruins quarantines them there. As expected, they’re in the middle of nowhere, no cell service, no sat phone, no airplanes, little expectation of rescue. And they quickly discover that the original archaeologist team is dead and that the vine is responsible.

What follows includes unspoken tensions between the members of the group coming to a head, some brutal decisions about how to take care of the wounded in primitive conditions, and what to do about the vine spore that’s entered into those wounds and coated everyone’s clothes and skin. If you’re a fan of body horror, there’s some good, flinching gore for you, but it’s the human element that keeps the movie grounded in something almost paranoid. Some of the best horror, in my opinion, comes from the lengths we’ll go to when we’re desperate to survive.

I won’t spoil anything about the nature of the vines or the fates of the characters, but it doesn’t disappoint, though the unrated ending beats the theatrical (unrated version also has an extraneous scene, but I can forgive it). In a contest between The Ruins and Cabin Fever about horror getting under your skin, The Ruins beats Cabin hands down.

Cold Feet


, , , ,


I know writers do it all the time, master the turnaround from draft to publication so that the process is much more efficient. I did it back in my fanfic days, when the standards for posting fic were different than the standards for posting original work, because you were amateur. The amateur status forgave many sins of the beginner.

When I was a kid, I could make a Tootsie Roll last by treating it like hard candy. Ironically—or perhaps not so ironically—as I’ve grown older, I’ve also grown less patient. Yet my standards for putting my work out require me to take my time, even if I don’t want to. I’m a perfectionist and a control freak. They’re both qualities that led me to pursue self-publishing, but they certainly do nothing for my impatience.

Moving from amateur to professional changed my standards. I write a thing. I set it aside for at least a month, and more often than not, about six months to a year before I pick it up again. That lets me distance myself from it, forget a few things, and approach it with fresher eyes after my alpha reader’s gone through it. Then I edit the crap out of it. Then I set it aside again. Then I look over how the edits changed the look and feel of the narration and dialogue, and I edit again. Then I set it aside again. Then I edit again. In between all of this, I’m usually working on other projects, but part of me is always with a finished story, working on it in my subconscious. Only when I think it’s publishable do I even consider sending it to a professional editor.

And finding a professional editor that’s right for me has been more work than I thought it would be, given the number of writers who recommend their editors. Once I settle on an editor or editors, I’ll go through their edit. Then I’ll set it aside again. Then I’ll do at least one final sweep and proofread.

Then I’ll send the book to the formatter. Only after that will I submit the book. That’s not even getting into the cover art/designer side of the equation, or the promotion plans, both of which I can work on in tandem with the writing/editing side.

To give you an idea of the timeline we’re talking about, I wrote Thorns in 2012. It’s probably not going to get published until late January/early February 2018. So much for quick turnaround.

I’m chomping at the bit for Thorns to be released, but not until it’s ready. Not until it’s right. Not until it’s as close to perfect as I’m capable of making it.

And isn’t that just the crux of the matter. Because there is no perfect. There will never be perfect. I’ll always come up short against my own standard, and an objective measure of writing quality is a foggy notion at best. If you don’t like a piece of art, it wasn’t made for you. Poor quality art can still be enjoyed by millions, which brings into question the designation ‘poor quality’ in the first place—because the art did what it was supposed to do, tap into something inside people and make them respond.

In most other parts of my life, I have ways to measure my success or failure and the quality of my actions, usually through some metric of quantity. In art, quantity doesn’t imply quality. I have nothing I can measure, and after a certain point, that takes quality control out of my hands. I can control spelling, grammar, punctuation, pacing, word choice. I can’t control how readers react to the story. That’s the indefinable skill that differentiates a good writer from a mediocre one. I certainly can’t anticipate readers’ enjoyment or engagement based on my own positive reaction to my stories. Mediocre writers entertain themselves, too.

The only solution available to me is to surround myself with people I can trust to tell me when something doesn’t work, but sometimes it’s a delicate balance to make sure that person is also the kind of person meant to enjoy the kinds of things you write. And deciding whether the reason you accept or reject them isn’t because they like or hate your writing. And determining whether your ego or your instinct is driving your decisions to take or leave their criticism. I can never tell whether I’m overconfident or underconfident, whether I’m second-guessing myself too much or too little. Sometimes, I’m a Professional Writer. Other times, I’ve got a serious case of Imposter Syndrome.

But here I am, willing to put my work out there through self-publishing, where the responsibility and consequences fall on me. If people react badly, all the egg hits my face and no one else’s. I’m impatient, with Thorns having been with me for five years and Nocturne having been with me for thirteen (a young adult book I wrote back when I was a young adult). Publishing’s a slow process, though in theory, the digital revolution was supposed to change that, right? But I’ve got some serious jitters, man, and a pathological fear of failure (although you’d think I’d be used to it by now).

There’s no way to objectively know it’s good. These are the things that keep me up at night.