Category Archives: Mental Work

The ways in which I hack my brain to get it to function at least mostly the way I want it to. Also, ways in which my brain is a tricksy thing that tries to fail.

The Need For Speed

So, I write a lot. You may have noticed this from me everywhere.

I also write fast, or at least I do when circumstances cooperate and I can sit down and bash out some words. This contributes to the impression that I write a lot; on a bad day I can usually grind out 500 words or so, and on a good day I can get up to 8-10k, sometimes 14k on different projects? I think that’s my upper limit. I did this by breaking myself, in the way that you can shape bones and bodies when they’re young and malleable by breaking them. I dont’ recommend it, and I’ve gotten into it in more depth elsewhere on my blog.

One of the ways I do write fast though, that I do advocate, is because I have learned to both shut up my inner editor and to use her to my advantage. I recommend starting with gagging your inner editor, sitting them in a corner, and telling them to think about their many and varied sins and how you’re not going to have anything for them to complain about if you don’t finish this first draft. Once you and your inner editor have gotten into that routine (and if you have you might know what I’m talking about here) you can begin Phase 2 of becoming Even More Awesome.

Look, if you ground out a first draft you are an Awesome Writer by my way of thinking. Drafts are hard. So we’ll work on being Even More Awesome.

My mind is, eh, I don’t want to say a finely tuned instrument but more like it’s a government institution. Which is to say that it has inertia on its side, it works sluggishly at times and way too fast at others, and both of these times are the least convenient. (I refer you to the perpetual phenomenon of Ideas In The Shower.) It has many rooms and offices that each perform functions, another thing I’ve gone into more detail elsewhere about which rooms perform what functions. Today we’re going to be looking at the Inner Editor’s office. It’s pretty empty most of the time, after all she’s not very useful in getting the draft out, but some things do live there with reasonable permanence.

The first thing that comes to mind as I write this is also the latest thing: the shelf of weasels. Occasionally these weasels will be retired and new weasels will show up. Not the typical kind of brainweasels, these are what Editrix calls the “weasel words,” the ones that I’ve started using as conversational filler like ‘almost’ and ‘at least’ and so on. And in some places they’re justified, but most of the time they dilute the writing and wear down the impact, so I leave the weasel cages on a shelf to remind me to cut that out. Every paragraph or page or so I go back and look; did I use them? Could I take them out? No? Good. Stay in your cages. The whole process takes about thirty seconds if I don’t have to make any changes, and then I’m on writing the next chunk of text. Sometimes I can catch them before they escape their cages and pee all over my text, which is ideal. Nobody likes watery weasel pee-soaked text.

Another thing I do is I have a few coats hanging on hooks. If I’m doing detective pulp I’ll have a detective coat on my hook and every few minutes I’ll do an internal check to make sure I’m in that mode. Clipped sentences, vivid description. Hints scattered here and there. How’s the tension? If I’m doing something more along a fantasy line I might keep a simple or a fancy cloak, and do an internal check there as I write. I want something that flows well and has a lyrical quality to it, without being so heavy in the phrase or word choice that I weigh myself down and can’t move the story at all.

I use visual metaphors to describe this because that’s how I think. What I’m doing is getting used to keeping these concepts in mind as I write, but separating it out from the part of my brain that worries over everything. I refer to it often as hanging things on hooks in my head, and it’s complicated at first but gets easier with practice. It helps to do a few test runs of writing shorter things at first, keeping one or two things in mind as you write and otherwise just going as fast as you reasonably can while maintaining coherence of story.

The other thing I do, unrelated to my Inner Editor’s Office, when I sit down to write is I have an idea of what the scene is. I’m afraid this may just take practice, or if there’s a method to learning how to do it I haven’t picked it out of my head yet. I’ll sit down to write a scene and I’ll know, for example, that this is the scene in which a father tells his daughter his life story. I’ll know it starts with a meal, and in the kitchen, and that the immediate family will be there. I’ll pick a point before the action starts and I won’t stop until I’ve completed the scene goal and gotten everyone to where they need to be, or until it’s become obvious that I’ve run so completely off the rails that I need to stop and go back and start again, or reassess what I need out of this scene.

As with all useful skills, it takes practice to do this. It takes a lot of practice to write well, fast, to get things up to 50% right on the first try. Which honestly is about as high as I’d try to get on the first try, so tell your inner editor to can it. But it’s a skill worth developing if you’re one of those people who has a lot of stories you want to tell and a limited amount of time in which to write.

I know this torment. Trust me. I have a to-write list a mile long. Speed writing is the only way I get things done without becoming an eternal scream of frustration.

If you don’t have a lot of stories to tell or you have as much time as you feel you want or need to write, don’t worry about practicing this! But for those of you who are like me, who have so many stories in your head and are typing at the speed of light to get this out before you have to go someplace or do something or wrangle a child or a pet, I hope these tricks work for you.

The Great Grumpy Mire

So, that story I just finished is definitely one of the reasons why writers sometimes dole out the little gem that, if you can do anything else, do that instead.

I’d love to blame the endless string of shit that’s been piled down through January and into February (long, tiring story) and that I only managed to climb out of in March, but in reality it’s also just the writing process. The sad reality that sometimes, the inspiration doesn’t last, what you’ve written down isn’t enough to keep you energized through the whole thing, and all you’re left with is the notes and a hope that when you’ve put it all together and written it out, you’ll have something people want to read. Right now that’s a fainter hope than I’d like to run with. Which means it’s going to be a long, painful editing process. And no one likes that either.

By contrast there’s two other things I’m working on that are flying out of my fingertips, and not only are they easy, I’d judge that they’re actually pretty good. I’ve got the rhythm of it, I’m managing to get words on paper at a pretty good clip. Well, on screen. And I’m stringing words together in a way that’s not repetitive, that’s true to the setting and the characters, and that seems at least to be engaging enough to keep going. It’s a good sign when you’re interested enough in your own book to keep reading it and writing!

This doesn’t, by the way, have anything to do with fleshing out the world or the characters. In fact out of the three stories, the one I’ve been struggling with is at least as detailed if not more so than one of the two that’s chugging right along. If I knew what this endless mental morass and slog did have to do with, well, for one thing I wouldn’t be slogging through any of my stories anymore. I don’t think anyone does know. It’s just One Of Those Things.

This is the part where discipline comes in. This is why, whenever anyone asks for advice on how to write or finish a thing, my first advice is always, get your ass in that chair and write yourself into a routine. The only way to know, ultimately, if you’ve got a winner or a jumbled mess in your hands is to finish it, go back, look at it, and try and bash it into some sort of shape. Sometimes you do that and look back and it isn’t worth the struggle. Believe me, there are works I’ve drafted that I wish I’d abandoned halfway through. Sometimes, I had this happen to me recently, sometimes you get half or three quarters of the way through and it’s been a hell of a slog through the mud and the suck, and all you want to do is give up. And then everything falls into place, not just because you’re close to the end but because suddenly you know exactly why she did that, you know why he’s being an asshole, you know everything and you can’t get it onto the page fast enough. Sure, you have to rewrite the first 30-50 thousand words, but who cares? You’re on fire! Sometimes that moment happens in rewrites. Or on the third draft (had that happen recently, too), and sometimes it never happens, you finish the damn thing, put it out there, and fifty people swarm all over it claiming it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. That’s another thing you should do, if you have something but you’re not sure about it, show it to a few other people and see how they feel. I can’t tell you how many authors go “Huh, they picked the one I was least excited about.”

People, man. You can’t predict what they’ll like, you just have to do the best you can, put it out there, and hope they enjoy it.

But this is why I stress discipline as a part of writing for serious hobbyists, career writers, what have you. This is why people say, god, why would you want to be a writer. Do something else. You don’t even have the benefit of tangible improvement the way you do if you’re a craftsperson or an animal trainer or an underwater basketweaver. You can’t look at a line of baskets and say, yeah, the first few sucked, but that last one, man, look at that work of art! After a while you get the mechanical details of the craft down but that doesn’t insure you against screwing up epic-time in one of the big details down the line. Or just writing something that never, ever finds its audience.

The thing I do know, though, is that you will never find any of that out if you don’t at least get a few first drafts you, even if you hate them. Even if you look at the editing process and think “oh god I would rather do my taxes than deal with that” (go on guess what I did the morning I wrote the first draft of this). You don’t have to finish all of the drafts, that’s a pernicious lie that even I tell sometimes, you can’t edit what isn’t there but sometimes, yes, it is better just to put it down, say ‘screw you, story’, and walk the fuck away. And sometimes you have to push through it, and push through it, and keep pushing, and use that discipline to the fullest. And only you can make that judgment call.

Go To The Moon

A friend of mine is currently making a short film, which means the rest of us get to hear him bemoaning his life choices and bitching about everything else. I have adequate popcorn, it’s fine. But, see, the problem with bitching is that it tends to be contagious. One person starts up, another one chimes in all “Yeah, and you know what else?” and then a third person adds “And another thing” and before you know it you’re writing another short story or a book. Wait, no, that’s just me.

The relevant part of this story is, one of the things he was bitching about was the advice he was reading on filmmaker blogs and websites. Don’t do this, because it doesn’t work. Don’t do this, because it’s hard. Don’t minimize your crew to save on working expenses. Don’t do oners. And there were probably one or two other things I didn’t hear about. The cycle of bitching began, although instead of a book I’m writing this blog post because sit down, dear friends, let me tell to you a thing. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, and even just because the prevailing theory is that a thing or a technique won’t work is no reason not to do it. I wouldn’t necessarily throw a great deal of money or valuable materials at something I know isn’t likely to work. But a perfect or near perfect result isn’t always the thing you want. And that still doesn’t mean that just because something is hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.

(You know why we (the United States) went to the moon, right?)

Every skill and profession is full of advice. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to people who have been there and done that, because avoiding mistakes that other people have made is always a good way to start. It shortens your learning time and improves your product. But there is, and I’m not going to define it to you because it’s just one of those things you know when you see it, there is a difference between mistakes that do not need to be repeated and mistakes that need to be made so you learn why they are mistakes. There’s a lot of knowledge to be gained from trying, fucking up, and figuring out where and how and why you fucked up so you can learn not only not to do it again, but a different way of doing it better and more correctly. Maybe the “right” way that someone taught you isn’t the only right way to do the thing. Maybe there’s a better way no one you met has thought of. At my family’s store we’ve been dyeing a kind of fiber and talking about and teaching dyeing that fiber that one way for twenty years, and just in the last year we learned that you don’t have to do it that way, you can also do it this way. And there was much blinking and shrugging and, okay, sure, why not.

Just because someone tells you to do a thing a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do it that way. And just because doing a thing the other way is going to be hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. No, let me distill that down some. Just because a thing is hard, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. If we all shied away from doing difficult things the world would be a lot worse off.

And this is the problem with saying things like “don’t” or “shouldn’t.” There are very few things that come under that heading. Don’t murder, don’t steal, you shouldn’t punch people, okay, yes. That is true. But saying don’t minimize your crew to save budget, well, why? To make your life harder by having to raise more money? What’s wrong with selecting the two or three best people you know to be your crew, and accepting the consequences? Don’t use passive voice in your writing, well, what if you want to use passive voice in large chunks of your story because you think it will set the appropriate mood? And what’s wrong with trying? By blindly following the advice of “Don’t” or “Shouldn’t” you can deprive yourself of a lot of experience that will teach you why you should or shouldn’t do a thing, and possibly give you some ideas for things you can do instead.

Yes, it’s going to be hard. Disregarding someone’s advice comes with risks, you risk making mistakes that someone else has made, the stupid mistakes that don’t convey any learning properties beyond “don’t touch the hot stove you fucking moron.” On the other hand, disregarding someone’s advice also disregards their prejudices and their limits, which may not be your prejudices and limits. What they think of as hard, you might think of as “challenge accepted.” God knows my scale of response to “this is hard” runs from “ugh I’m going to go eat a brownie instead” to “well fine fuck you I’m going to do it anyway and show you all mua ha ha ha ha.” I’m not even kidding, there’s a maniacal giggle I do, I’ve been told it’s scary.

So I guess what I’m saying here is, don’t do things or refrain from doing things because they’re hard. Don’t do things or refrain from doing things because someone tells you, or do things a certain way because someone tells you. Give it a moment’s thought, first. Even me, what I’m writing here, think about what I’m saying and decide for yourself if I’m full of shit or if there’s something here that has merit towards your life. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s said fairly often around the family store that if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly a couple of times. Don’t be afraid of hard things, and don’t let anyone else make you afraid, either. I find my life is much more exciting for choosing to accept challenges rather than well-meant but “safe” advice. But then, it’s your life, and only you get to choose how you live it.

The Important Things

I’m sitting up here with a mug of cocoa in one hand and typing with the other, with Leverage playing in the background and classic rock playing in my ears (as I start it’s Once In A Lifetime by the Talking Heads, ah my childhood), working on this blog post and trying not to feel guilty about how long it’s been or about the literally 20 other things I did not get done today. I’m serious. I have a list. I think it’s about 20 items long.

I’ve forgotten the three important things.

You know that saying, don’t you? The internet knows this one well,

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

Henry James, in a letter to his son, or so the internet thinks.

It’s easy to remember that we should be kind to other people. We’re reminded of this quite a bit, in the news media, by other people’s responses to us, in television, in films, in books. We are reminded to be good, to be kind. To extend of ourselves to help others, and that’s not a bad thing, that’s part of how society thrives and perpetuates itself. Encouraging the individuals that make up that society to share and help each other.

It’s much harder to remember to be kind to oneself. To allow oneself to be flawed, fragile, and in need of time or space. There’s always a million and one reasons why this thing needs to be done now, or this thing should be done before we relax, or this other thing has to get done before your parents get here. If you’re not cleaning, you’re cooking, if you’re not cooking, you’re studying, the world will absolutely shatter if you don’t finish all of your chores, and heaven forbid you tell a friend, sorry, I didn’t finish that book yet, mind if I keep it a while longer? I’m sorry, I can’t make that event, I need a day off where I can sit around the house in my pajamas and eat chocolate cookies.

We’re not supposed to do that. We’re supposed to be super people, and the more we at least appear to have it together the more we’re supposed to continue to have it together, day after day after day. It’s not even the opinion of others, it’s what we perceive as the opinion of others that trips us up most often. Sometimes, yes, we do have deadlines. We forget to take into account how much we can and can’t do, what we can balance, and we take too many projects on with outside deadlines, and then we have to live with the consequences.  Hopefully one of those consequences is learning not to do that again.

But there’s also our self-imposed deadlines. I’m going to read this many books by the end of the year. I’m going to clean the house by the weekend. I’m going to clean the house this weekend and you will be able to eat off the floors by Monday.

You take it too far you end up like me, feeling guilty about every moment where you’re just relaxing on the couch playing silly computer games. Every minute you spend surfing tumblr becomes a minute you could be doing push-ups, studying, cleaning, prepping food to cook later. You learn these tricks, you make them up for your life as you go along. If you’re patient with yourself, and attentive, and you’re not afraid to fuck up once in a while. You find ways to make your life a little smoother. But that doesn’t mean you have to make up for it in other places. Having extra time doesn’t mean you have to justify it somehow or fill it up with something else productive. Sometimes it is really okay to just lie back and take a nap.

We do not, as a general rule, prioritize or even much value downtime. At least in the American culture where I grew up. I very much remember fellow students having informal contests over who studied more, who got less sleep was a point of pride, who was busier, not necessarily who was doing more extracurricular activities but who was working harder at things that were considered to have value, schoolwork, studies, college applications, volunteer work. It would have been part time jobs if, admittedly, I hadn’t gone to a school largely populated by rich kids. In college it was a little less pervasive, but the same thing. We all worked so hard because we felt that our value was in work, and the results of our work, good results and not failures.

This is a vicious, terrible lie. It is okay to fail, and it is okay not to be working every moment of every day. It is okay to sometimes be idle, to let yourself recharge. It is good to forgive yourself for your failings because holding onto them does nothing useful. Knowing what you did wrong is useful, continually beating yourself in the head about it is not. Go ahead, give yourself permission to have that brownie, read that allegedly trashy book, watch that movie just for the one person you find attractive. Curl up under the covers and take a nap. It’ll be okay, I promise. Just for now, for a short while, be kind to yourself. It’s just as important as everything else.

Weasel Words and Warg Warfare

And once again I find myself going: “Computer! Take me to the weasels!”

No, okay, it’s not that bad, is it? It’s just a slog. A long, slow slog out of the winter of my discontent. This is, what, the third or fourth post I’ve made about this so far? Getting sick of me yet?

That’s a weasel talking. Pay it no mind.

It’s snowing again, after several days of really lovely weather. I’m still coughing despite all my other symptoms going away, business continues to be eh. I’m not anywhere near as far along in my garden as I want to be, partly due to my own neglect. I’m fretting about what fixing my chimney will cost, although once that’s done our heating for the next few winters should be less problematic, which is good because meteorologists and climatologists are making dire noises about the next few winters. I do like my good stout-walled house with its fireplace. But that’s not the point.

The point is that this past winter has been a Winter of my Discontent, such as I haven’t known in at least a good five years, and there are no Yorkies or their sons in sight.

I have a handful of dime novels to write, the next Black Ice book/anthology to finish, another book (Sandborn) to finish edits on and finally publish, and that’s not even counting all the Murderboarding backlog, plus the new developments from the Portland trip (more on that on the Murderboarding blog.) Plus keeping up here, plus my day job, plus whatever it is I end up doing in my allegedly free time. Reading books? Sewing things.

It’s hideously daunting when I think about it like that. Less so when I realize that I’ve successfully juggled all of these things for several years now, by dint of excellent Timing and a certain amount of Brilliance and Grace. Bit by bit, piece by piece, and hour by hour, making time for everything in rotation and keeping up the continuous progress, it’ll get done. But it’s still daunting as all hell. The big part is, I’ve spent four months being dragged through situational depression trigger after depression trigger, yo-yoing like crazy not due to anything that can be solved with chemicals or (much) talk therapy, but due to the fact that my grandfather was dying and a gas line blew up near my house and a friend died unexpectedly and it would not stop being frigid cold.  I did very little writing. I did very little creating. And I suffered because of it. Now, writing is a slog, a chore, it’s trying to do all those push-ups you used to do every morning after four months of no exercise, and finding you can maybe get out five before you collapse face first onto the carpet. Well, hardwood.

I’ve been writing, what with one thing and another, since I was six or seven. So by this point I’ve almost been writing for thirty years. I’ve gotten fast. Incredibly fast. I’ve gotten skilled, I think, as well as perhaps starting out talented. I used to be able to write a dime novel, around 10k words give or take, in a weekend. With time to spare to clean house and relax and do other things. Now, well. It took me nearly six months to write the last one. Ouch.

There’s a lecture here that the Editrix gives me, when I’m not applying it to myself. Writing is a muscle. As referred to in the push-ups analogy above, if you don’t use it, it’ll atrophy and wither and become less strong than you’re used to. I haven’t used those muscles in four months, and that’s a lot of atrophy. And at the speed and strength I was used to before, that’s a lot of difference. A lot of weasel room, so to speak. Double ouch.

And the problem with this is, as with muscles and push-ups, there is no magic button. There’s no set of criteria you can meet, the right workspace or the right background music or the right snack, that will get you to that place you used to be. You just have to work the muscles again. In a way it may be worse than first-try writing progress, when you’re trying to get better or faster or develop a new set of writing skills for the first time; I know how good I used to be, how fast, and how much I could do, and I can’t do that anymore. And it sucks. And it’s an opening for my brain to trick itself, for the weasels to get in and start gnawing on my self-confidence. I don’t have what it takes. I can’t hack it. I was just fooling myself all those years when I thought I could.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, yes, there is a “punch it in the face” coming.

You have to do the work. There’s no way around it. As with most things in life, you have to do the work, but you can make it easier on yourself. I’ve broken up the next six weeks into calendars and goals, and to my amazement I seem to be on top of things. I sat my ass down and I wrote the end to the dime novel I started four, five. Six? Months ago, and I did not let myself move on until I’d finished it. Because I had only three or four scenes left to go, and because I knew I could do at least that much. They were right there in my head, clear as day in vivid color and that sharp smell of blood (it’s that kind of a story) and I just needed to set them down on paper. Well, screen. So I sat my dumb ass down and did it. And I kept reminding myself, as many times as it took, yes, it sucks now. You’re tired, and it sucks, and it hurts that you can’t do this like you used to. Suck it up, buttercup. You don’t get a Steve Rogers super-serum to make you into the super-powered writer you used to be, you have to work at it.

That dime novel’s off in the Editrix’s hands now, getting shredded in green pen. I’ve got blog-work to do, I’m reading over the other thing I was in the middle of so I can finish that, then it’s on to Sandborn. It still feels exhausting. Like I’m not the person I used to be, worse, like I never was the person I thought I was. But I am. I have the mountains and mountains and Himalayan fucking mountains of old fiction of greater or lesser quality to prove it. I have friends who will not let me forget it. I have an Editrix who will sit on my head if I try to squirm out of it.

So. Bring on the weasels, and break out the gym equipment. It seems I have some training to do.

 

Voluntold

So, the Editrix and I and undoubtedly several others have a word for this sort of thing, that thing where someone asks for volunteers, pretends or makes a show of contemplating, and picks you. We call it being voluntold. It happens a lot in rigid structures such as military or police forces, or some kinds of school. Latrines need scrubbed? Congratulations, probie, you’ve been voluntold. Someone needs to go on that scouting mission into known hostile territory? That’s right, you’ve been voluntold. Some idiot needs to pass a series of increasingly ridiculous and difficult trials in order to win the dubious privilege of battling the villain who’s terrorized the known world for the last century? Congratulations! You’ve been voluntold. Here’s your MacGuffin.

I still maintain that if half these protagonists weren’t in a place where their choices consisted of getting thrown in prison by the evil army or scraping a living off the streets because your dead parents left you nothing, most of them would tell their guides where to stick the prophecies that chose them.

The other option you get in a lot of organizations is the reaction of “How nice, you have a problem. Now go fix it.” This crops up only as a reaction, which limits the potentials somewhat. It requires the initial effort of spotting the problem, after all, in order to be tasked with fixing it. But doesn’t that make for a more dynamic beginning? Someone poking holes in the structure that’s been set up around them, then reacting to being told they have to fix it. Not necessarily with belligerent determination, that’s why we have the Refusal of the Call, but reacting nonetheless to a situation set up by their own actions. Admittedly, certain themes and archetypes and structures don’t work well with that sort of beginning, but as a general rule it’s a much more active start to a piece. It involves much more agency, choice, and action on the part of the protagonist. And that’s just one of the problems I have with this Chosen One malarky.

If you know me at all well, you know (and if you don’t, now’s your chance to learn) that much of my thinking on narrative is influenced by Babylon 5. Maybe not determined, so much, but influenced. So here’s where I reference Babylon 5, specifically a line from Marcus Cole. He said,

I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

It’s much the same with being a Chosen One. There’s an outside order of things, something that’s imposed upon people and their actions and consequences, chance becomes thin on the ground. Whether or not that has anything to do with fairness is only tangential; in certain works, fairness becomes dependent on the point of view of the Chosen One. We call this protagonist-centered morality. (And we hates it, precious.) Depending on the skill of the writer, the Chosen One can clear obstacles from their assigned path by making personal choices and taking actions, but a lot of the time obstacles are simply cleared because they are the Chosen One. And the ultimate result is always the same: 

The lesson in the work tells us that the universe is a more friendly place when it’s all geared to work in your favor. When destiny says you are chosen and will fulfill this great promise. It’s part of what makes works with that kind of dynamic and prophecy so appealing. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that all of our suffering, all the bad things that happen to us are simply to prepare us for something grand and important and wonderful in the future? I know I’d like that. I have a couple of really bad choices I made in the past that I’d like to think were destiny’s hand nudging me towards something greater in my future. When you’re the Chosen One, that’s exactly what happens! You’ve been voluntold to struggle through this bad relationship, this mind-numbing trained-monkey-level job, this class you’re failing so that in the future you’ll be a better… whatever. And you can defeat the bad guys and save the day.

But what’s your other option? “How nice, you have a problem, now go fix?” Not only is that putting all of the burden on diagnosing the problem correctly on you, it also conveys the sting of rejection. You ask for help, it’s refused, and it hurts. On the face of it, it’s a lot less friendly than having someone in a deep British-accented voice come down and whisk you off for adventures unknown telling you there’s a grave problem and they need you to fix it. Here’s your MacGuffin.

But that’s essentially the same thing, isn’t it?

When you find the problem, you have some idea at least of where to start. You might not know where the full boundaries of the problem are but you know where to begin looking. If done right, within the story at least, that kind of approach can be shown to confer confidence, authority, ability, after a suitable struggle of course. And this is all assuming the response is tempered by having the actual tools to fix the problem. If you don’t, it becomes futility and the Protestant lie of “You’re not succeeding therefore you’re not working hard enough, you’re wrong.” We’re all familiar with this one, yes? Still, this is fiction. We are the writers, we make the rules. We can give the protagonist a problem to find and then solve. We can give our protagonist the tools to solve it.

Or we can not do that. Which is the trickiest approach of all, but sometimes necessary. When I was a child, I learned a lot of things from books, just ask the Editrix who recently took a book tour of a lot of my formative reading. One of the things we can learn from books, more safely from books and with fewer direct hits to the psyche, is how to fail at things. How to approach a problem with what seem to be all the right tools, with the right mindset and all the data, and it doesn’t work. That doesn’t happen to Chosen Ones. But it does happen to us, in real life. And it’s much easier to learn how to cope with that from a character we identify with, empathize with, in a book, than it is to learn it the hard way.

There’s always room for wish fulfillment and escapism. I’m a big fan of it, engaged in a lot of it myself. So I’m not going to tell you there’s no room in fiction for someone special to be voluntold into fixing the world, with all the attendant glory and reward and happily ever after. But I find it disingenuous to make that the dominant narrative, And it’s much more satisfying, for me, personally, to stand at the top of the heap of bodies that I put there out of stubborness of will and the tools I have to hand.

 

Brainhacking, Or How I Became My Own JARVIS

When I first saw Iron Man I wanted Jarvis. So, I think, did almost every other computer geek I know. Certainly a lot of geeks of various kinds who work with things that require simulations or diagrams or anything like that, because having the ability to diagram in 3D around your head, and be able to manipulate the diagram just with a gesture? Not to mention the AI controlling all this can tell when you’re just wiggling your fingers and when you’re doing something on purpose? I mean, I love my Dragon NaturallySpeaking, but it has not as yet developed the capacity to tell when I’m making thinky noises and when I’m dictating to it. Alas. But Jarvis? I want one.

Before Iron Man came high school, and getting through that. I’ve been hacking my brain for a good long while, I don’t remember where I learned meditation techniques but I’m betting it was here in the mountains, at summer camp run by the parents of one of my best friends. This particular one was a technique I didn’t learn there, but I think I pulled out of a fiction book. Or at least got the idea from it. Take a red sphere, visualize it well, and send it into an orbit. Then take an orange sphere and do the same, without losing track of the red one or its orbit. See how many spheres you can get up to. Simple. Not easy, not by a long shot, but simple. I would pull this one out whenever my mind was racing too fast for me to keep up so I had to focus on something, maybe multiple things. This was before my cool-down meditation of putting my mental workshop back in order, of course. I practiced it for several years before for some reason it fell by the wayside.

So. We have Jarvis from the Iron Man movies, we have the Maerlyn’s Rainbow meditation exercise (no, it doesn’t come from Stephen King, but the notion amuses me), the third part of this is the blogging I was doing last night. Adsartha and I were chewing over the last chunk of this week’s episode of Grimm to finish that out for posting this morning, and since this week’s episode was a metaplot heavy one, there was a lot of chewing. A lot of moving parts. We were supposed to discuss the Royal Conspiracy aspect of the metaplot in more detail afterwards, but by the time we were finished it was late and she was tired, so she went to bed and I found myself upstairs in bed, mind churning. All I had was my netbook, so I didn’t have any of the diagrams we’d worked up to keep track of all the freaking moving parts. But I’d just been looking at it downstairs, I had it in my head, so, sure, I pulled out some visualization and I started working on it.

Just with a couple parts. At the end of the day and right before bed, I didn’t think I could keep it all in my head that well. It had been a while since I’ve done any purely mental exercise like this, with no text in front of me, no video, no graphical or textual notes to refer to, just mind work. So I put Person A in the middle, then a couple of his allies, then group B off to one side. And I fiddled with them a bit, trying to figure out who was on who’s side for real and who knew what, and I added in group C which was related to Person A but against group B, because they’re very integral to the plot by now. And eventually I added in Person D, who is at least tentatively working with Person A not that Person A or his allies trust Person D, but Person D also has access to group C’s itinerary or at least part of it, when even one of Person A’s allies who is close within group C doesn’t know… you see how complicated this gets?

And five minutes later or so I realize I’m juggling about six balls in the air, I’ve created sort of a giant mental orrery to keep track of everything, and I’ve become my own goddamn Jarvis. Just with my mind, and without a ‘save’ button, sadly, but with my mind able to keep track of a fair number of moving parts. Or, if you prefer, colored balls. Because thanks to the original format in which I’d put all this information to start with, all of the representations of these people and groups came out as spheres. With labels and slightly different colors. Literally, I was juggling mental pictures of about six colored balls, spinning them around, grouping them together, fingers waggling in the air as I directed my inner Jarvis to shift this over there and move that closer to that, ponder the information, relocate, start again back two steps. It didn’t yield any massive new insights, but it did clarify a few things and offer a few more avenues to go down for new theories. And, really, it was five minutes before bed and I should probably have just gone to sleep early.

And now I have to wonder, if that’s what I do when I’m punchy and half asleep, what could I do awake? Could this be the start of a whole new method of planning out novels? Could I do this for Black Ice? (Answer: Oh god I’m not sure I even want to try.)

Meditative techniques are amazing things. They pop up in the strangest of places, being helpful in the strangest of ways. I haven’t thought of that exercise in years, I certainly haven’t practiced it since around high school, but when I got bored and had no resources and needed a Jarvis, out it came. And your mental filing system and murderboarding method might be different! You might prefer to associate concepts with sounds to create harmonies, or scents, or something else. You might prefer the memory palace technique, and yes, that works. That’s pretty much this technique on a larger scale and with much more practice, and trust me, it works. But I cannot recommend highly enough the practice and regular use of meditative technique. Mental organization. Start small, build up, and eventually you’ll be able to hold a number of interlocking, separate, moving concepts in your head and manipulate them at will, without pen and paper or keyboard or other support. And once you can do that? Once you can manage that and then add the support back in, if nothing else for nifty things like save buttons? Well, who knows where you’ll go from then.

When In Danger When In Doubt

So, Gods and Monsters is launched! Yay! Confetti! Booze of some party kind! Little square cakes with fancy decorations for everyone!

Actually Gods and Monsters launched last week and today is the second week of it, but the big difference between last week and this week is that this week I have twenty plus people on my mailing list who have no idea who I am (I think), who came here on the strength of one advertised piece of sample writing (I hope) and who have no idea that I can’t actually write (I lie). Last week I had a bunch of friends and my mother and one person I don’t think I knew previous to starting this blog, on my mailing list. And the wolves gnawing on my backbrain insisted I was making macaroni art but that’s okay dear, your mother loves you and will hang it on the fridge anyway.

I can’t make macaroni art anymore. Oops.

This is the wolf pack of a lot of different insecurities. Imposter Syndrome at its finest, telling me that I only got this bunch of new followers because I faked being able to write really well and now they’re all going to find out I don’t know what I’m doing and pfft, bye. This is Stage Fright, with which I am annoyingly familiar for someone who turned her back on a dream of a career dancing on Broadway. This is insecurity and stress, this is the jitters that come with trying something new, this is a lot of things for a lot of reasons. Fortunately, some of the reasons and most of the ways it manifests are familiar. Old enemies, fear and panic. I’ve got a lot of weapons for these buggers.

My primary weapon is a double-edged sword, myriad of potential puns intended. At the moment, oh, let’s count how many balls I have in the air, shall we? There’s Black Ice which I’m in the final section of first-pass rewrites at the moment. There’s White Lightning which I’m still drafting for some godforsaken reason (that’s another blog entry, but let’s just say I won’t be doing this again). There’s Sandborn which I’m on first-pass rewrites as well, but that’s due a few months later than Black Ice so the urgency is less. There’s my blogging for Unspooling Fiction. There’s keeping a house, which is its own kind of time consuming, I have a day job wherein we recently went to a trade show and did a pretty good bit of business, there’s my garden, and there’s Gods and Monsters that I’m going to be continually writing for the rest of my natural life. Or for the next couple years anyway. There’s Dragon*Con costumes to make in between everything, and various other crafty projects that also go with keeping a house. There’s… no, I think that’s it for now. I could panic, but I’m too damn busy. I have too much shit to do! And I’ve spent many years hacking my brain to the point where panic lasts for about two or three minutes, and then I latch on to the next thing in my list to do. So, that’s equal parts having several projects to do and practice.

My subroutines also come in handy here, the ones that punch things in the face. Human minds like patterns. Probably most living things that have minds do, but since the current theory is that I’m human I can only speak to human minds. And for the last handful of years I have spent considerable effort and some time developing the following patterns of thinking:

“Oh my god I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t…” “Do you know the steps?” “Yes.” “Do you know the technique?” “Yes.” “Then do it.”

“Oh god this is terrible no one is going to like this oh my god this sucks why do I even bother…” “Because you can’t imagine not doing it. Now take a breath, get your ego out of the game, and go do it.”

And other such things. And typing this out is a little like showing the video of your opening night performance of West Side Story, it looks beautiful and put together and everyone got their cues right, but that doesn’t show you the weeks and months of preparation, rehearsals, sewing the sleeves on the costumes on wrong, ruining a night of practice because you and your co-star couldn’t stop giggling, missing cues, running your hand through with the nailgun, falling off the A-Frame, etc. If I seem well-put together, it’s because I spent weeks and months giving up, crying, and shoving my laptop to the other side of the couch every time I got a bad comment or a rejection letter. Weeks and months pushing against the wall in my head that told me I was a bad writer like this one woman claimed long ago, and that’s why she’s an award-winning published author today and I’m not. Months and years of terror, sobbing, and lying in bed all day munching white cheddar popcorn and watching reruns. Even when I had a job there were days I did that on my day off rather than write, or sew, or do other such things.

So, panic happens? Yeah, bring it on, I can deal with you, I’ve had practice.

For me, panic is the sudden realization that I’ve done something. And that, too, is a weapon I can use to beat it back with. Yes, I wrote that. Yes, that person said something nice about my writing. Yes, they’re an actor in a wildly popular TV show. So? Panic happens at the weirdest points sometimes. Twitter is the biggest culprit here, enabling me to make contact with people who are what I aspire to be, or who awe me in other ways. And then if they say something nice, panic time! Oh god, they noticed me, oh god, they’ll hate me, oh god they’re saying something nice what do I do now, oh god oh god. It seems counterintuitive that good things like that should evoke the same reaction as all the bad things, the fears and self-doubt, but there you go. Climbing higher in my achievements only means I have further to fall, so let’s panic and suffer vertigo. The hell with that. And the next time the wolves start gnawing on my ankles about how my writing sucks and nobody loves it or me, I can pull out those tweets and go “Look. They’re impressed. They like it. Shut up.” “But… but they were lying.” “Well, let’s put this bit of writing out there and see.” And once I’m at that point I’ve won, no matter what happens.

So, Gods and Monsters is launched. And the next week as far as that project goes will no doubt look like this: pull next section notes from overall outline. Write next section. Realize some things about the overall outline, make notes in the appropriate document. Write some more. Send off to the editrix. Count the days till it goes out, relax. Get it back covered in green. Panic over edits. Start edits, realize this isn’t that bad, relax. Finish all but the last edits, become so familiar with the text that by now it’s banal and stupid. Panic that everyone will see it’s banal and stupid. Toss revised version to editrix, get final edits or thumbs up. Panic about now having to post it. Panic about every little thing going wrong with formatting. Panic in the last 10-15 minutes before it goes out because I’m a crap writer and now everyone will know it. Panic in the 5 minutes after it comes out because nobody’s reading it.

Realize I still have three other projects I should be working on right now that are due in X time. Panic about that. Get back to work.

The end.

Bad Brain Days

I had a couple bad brain days the week before last that set me back several days on writing. This happens roughly once a month and yes, it’s for the reason you’d expect. (For those of you who haven’t figured out: hormones. Female hormones. The monthlies, here around these parts known as Shark Week.) I can pretty much predict these occurrences, so at least I can work them into a schedule. A lot of people aren’t so lucky. The ones whose causes are more obscure, the ones who don’t stick to a cycle, for a lot of reasons a lot of people aren’t so lucky.

ETA 4/15/2013: I’m rewriting the introduction to this but leaving the above one stand. But in light of what’s just happened yesterday in Boston, I think we’re all going to have a lot of Bad Brain Days coming up. Whether you live in Boston, or have friends and loved ones who do, whether this brings you back to a traumatic event, or if you’re simply affected by the tragedy for reasons you can’t or don’t feel comfortable explaining. When a horrible thing like this happens, it causes Bad Brain Days. That’s okay. It’s a thing that happens. And that’s okay.

Let’s back up a second. When I say Bad Brain Days I mean the kind of days when I really need Natasha Romanova to punch someone in the face for me, usually one of those someone’s in my head who say either I suck or I don’t matter. Sometimes they get creative and pull out a fear I hadn’t thought of before, but those are the two big ones. Less commonly, Bad Brain Days happen because some unnamed jackass went out there and for whatever reason, did an incredibly horrible thing. Or maybe a horrible thing happened, no one to blame for it, it was just an accident or a force of nature. These things affect us, give us Bad Brain Days and the only advantage they have over the ones that come without warning is that at least you can point to a cause and say, “that. that’s what’s causing this pain.” Bad Brain Days are days where you can’t make yourself do anything because it’s hopeless and futile and why bother. Days when you need to curl up and cry somewhere, and half the time (most of the time?) you can’t. Because there’s work, or there’s a deadline, or there’s kids to pick up from school, or there’s an interview you need to go to, or a plane to catch, or this, or that, or something else involving slapping on a public face and pretending to be the competent human being you’re sure you aren’t. They happen to all of us, as far as I can tell. It might be for a very good and identifiable reason, or it might be that you have no idea where these thoughts are coming from, but one of these days you will run into the wall where your brain reacts to every little stimulus as if it’s telling you to go curl up in a corner because you’re a waste of space. Because everything is horrible and everything hurts, and you should be stronger than this, you have to cope, you have shit to do, and crying or screaming or otherwise being in pain makes you a waste of space.

First off, fuck that. In the eyeball. With a pool cue. There are no wastes of space here, I refuse to believe that, and any brainweasels attempting to tell you so are filthy stinking liars who lie.

There are a lot of sites out there on dealing with depression, whether hormonal or PMDD related, of the kind accompanied by mania, clinical and chronic, seasonal depression, situational depression, disaster-related depression, all kinds. This isn’t so much that; this is an essay or screed on how I work with my periodic and predictable Bad Brain Days when my body and my mind is turning against me, as well as, now, how I cope with this kind of mass tragedy. Some of it you might find useful! Some of it you might roll your eyes and oh Kitty no.

The first thing I do, or at least when I’m on the outside of it the first thing I hope I do, is recognize this as a Bad Brain Day and give myself permission to fuck up. To not meet deadlines. All deadlines become statements of intent, I intend to get these things done by the end of the day but whether or not I am able to is an open question, to be determined depending on how bad this one is and how many things to do in the day there are. There’s a few things that need to be done absolutely and without fail, things like feeding myself and showering and scooping the cat litter so they don’t crap all over the floor, but outside of that, everything is up for change. If I don’t get that scene edited or that chunk of television show blogged about, fine, it’ll get put off till the next day and we’ll evaluate tomorrow how I feel. The key part of mental illness here is ‘illness,’ and you don’t try to drag your dumb ass in to work when you have a flu and are spiking a 101 degree fever. Some illnesses are chronic, persistent, and always there, others have flare-ups. That doesn’t make it any less of a bitch to work with in your life, and it doesn’t mean you should try to get the same amount of work done as you do when you’re perfectly healthy. In the case of a disaster or tragedy like the one that took place in Boston, you may not be physically injured but it is a psychic wound, a mental and emotional injury. Again, you should allow yourself to be injured, treat yourself with the kind of care you would if you had a broken leg or a hard hit to the head. Maybe with more care, I know how some of you take care of yourselves.

The second thing I do on a Bad Brain Day is tell someone. Usually it’s the boyfriend, who isn’t always home and awake enough to notice when I’m behaving poorly (the joys of opposite shifts) (or, yesterday, awake when the news is hitting and then I have to tell it to him, fun) but sometimes he is, and I also tell my sister courtesans. The girls know what to do, we’ve spent four years bashing together routines and contingencies for just such a thing. Sometimes I tell another friend or two, if it comes up or we were supposed to do a thing together. If it’s an outside event, if I’m lucky, I don’t have to tell them and I can just say “Boston” or “Newtown” and they know, because they’ve seen the news too. By now we’ve dealt with this often enough that we have terms like DEFCON levels, brain-weasels and brain-wargs, three-pop problems, hamster wheel, inner college student. We use the Spoon theory, we use the oxygen mask metaphor, we remind each other by talking with in-jokes and common context that we understand each other, and we’re there to help. It’s simple and relatively easy, but effective. And by telling someone, I activate that support network and, especially in the case of non-external events that can be pointed to, both validate and get validation that this Bad Brain Day is real, this is a problem that needs to be address and the problem isn’t me or my failures.

After that it gets to be a sequence of if-thens. If I have work, then I get myself showered, dressed, and make sure I have food at a minimum before I go to work. Languages get kicked to the wayside before exercise; I can work on my Memrise vocabulary gardens while I’m at work and give myself some language practice and the reassurance of a small success there. Exercise is more difficult, and exercise is good for me when I’m having a bad brain day. Even if it’s just a succession of push-ups for the physical reaction. If I don’t have work, then I can curl up with a language book, or a real book, or even nap until I feel like I have more energy to do something else. If it’s an external catastrophe, I inform myself as much as I can stand and when I hit the saturation point, I isolate myself by going and doing housework or yardwork with only music on for a while. If I have a short writing project I can do, I do that. If I have a small easy task to do, I do that and get it both out of the way and finished for, again, the small high of success. If I have some good chocolate truffles left, if I have time, I curl up on the couch and eat a couple truffles, drink some milk, watch some distracting TV. Recharge. Allow myself to be sick.

One thing I don’t do is go on the internet. Not into the social media venues, anyway. If it’s a catastrophe, I collect data and get the hell off; if it’s a more internal Bad Brain Day I don’t go on at all. Interpreting other people’s actions and words is difficult enough without being hampered by the lack of visual or tonal cues, and on Bad Brain days everything that can be interpreted as someone hating or being indifferent to me will be. Rumors fly as fast as people can think them up, and everything updates in real time on the internet so it’s hard to separate conjecture, rumor, and misleading fact from truth. A lot of times, the information stream on the internet will do more harm than good. So if I go on the internet it’s to look something up for a writing project, to get into a document stored in the cloud, or to play a silly pixel pet game. Self-preservation at its best. If I remember to I may let more casual friends know I’m going radio silent for a bit, but otherwise I stay off of twitter and off of what social media I’m on.

Finally, this is a thing I don’t do during the Bad Brain Day itself, but something I do all the time: take Bad Brain Days into account. And it doesn’t just go for Bad Brain Days. I’ve been writing long enough that I have at least a rough idea of how much I can do over how long, but whenever I schedule myself, I always try to leave in a little extra padding. For those unexpected bad news phone calls, or the random evening when my friends decide we’re all going to go see Evil Dead at the dollar theatre, or the head cold I thought was allergies until the last minute, or, well, Bad Brain Days. I’m one of the lucky ones who can predict roughly when and for how long my typical Bad Day will hit, and can allow that I won’t get much if anything done on those days. And it’s a rule of scheduling and logistics in general, take everything you need an amount of whether it’s time or money or materials, and add at least ten percent for contingencies. If you’re lucky, you won’t run into a Bad Brain Day, won’t need it, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when the job’s over. And if you do, well, a little advance planning means you haven’t made a Bad Brain Day worse.

And if you haven’t, then you haven’t. Sometimes there’s no helping, stopping, or predicting a Bad Brain Day, and all you can do is keep crawling forward. And that’s okay, too.

The Call Is Coming From Inside The House

Earlier this week I was editing a short for submission that my editor had returned with the note “You need to write this from the other guy’s point of view.” I promise, the only thing worse than realizing you need to write a few thousand words from the other person’s point of view is realizing you need to write about fifty, seventy thousand words in the first person instead of the third. Rewriting sucks. Rewriting that kind of massive work sucks the monkey’s left nut off. And this is where it’s so easy to fall down, to throw up my hands and say fuckit, I’ll write something else from scratch and maybe it’ll be better. Or even, fuckit, I clearly can’t write.

I didn’t do that, of course. If you know me at all you know I’m an incredibly stubborn bitch. I dug my teeth in and I bashed my head against my mental walls, and I rewrote the damn story.

Writing is hard. As art is hard, as life is hard, as anything not involving instant gratification is hard, and even some things that do involve instant gratification (such as resisting it). It’s a struggle, and there are all kinds of obstacles you have to get over by any means you can. Get over, or get around, or crash through. You keep your goal firmly in mind, you plot your way there through the obstacles, and you make it eventually, right? Well, that’s the idea. In practice, it’s not even that simple. In practice, and a lot of the time, we’re the ones scrambling to find obstacles to put in our way and then realizing how far it is to to goal, and how thorny our path. And no, I’m not kidding.

But Kitty! I hear you say. I’m doing everything I can! I’m doing the work and I’m making the contacts, I’m taking the classes and I have really good teachers!

There are a lot of things you have to do to succeed. The first thing you have to do is define success. Are you a Real Writer when you’re published? Are you a Real Writer if you’re trying to be published? When you get that first rejection note? Are you a Real Writer when you make a shiny new blog and get your first comment or your first RT or your first person blogging about your blog? Are you a Real Writer if you make it onto the NYT Bestseller list? In which case there are an awful lot of us fake writers out there. I have what some might call really low and what I call really simple standards for who is a Real Writer, and I hate that fucking qualifier anyway: writers write. It might by my linguistic background talking, but I feel like it really is that simple. Writer is a noun derived from a verb, meaning, one who writes. If you write, not as in committing words on paper but as in putting together sentences to create a finished piece expressing an complex idea, if you do that? Then you’re a writer. Writers write. And you can take the classes, and you can make the contacts, and you can add all kinds of qualifiers or specifications to your title of “writer”. Published writer. Aspiring writer. Fanfiction writer, original fiction writer, essay writer, book writer. NYT Bestselling writer. But if you write, you’re a Real Writer in my book, full stop. 

Which brings us back to, writing is hard. You have an idea in your head of how you want this thing to go, but ideas so rarely match the execution, right? We don’t start out with the strings of words unspooling from our brains, we start out with, oh man, wouldn’t it be an awesome thing if clones had this social structure based on their purpose, like, the ones for organ donation were at the top and no one talked to those guys because everyone knew they were going for, like, jello. Or the one where you read an article about Jim Wilson flights and think that’s an awesome idea for a story but you have no idea what the plot is or how it starts. Or you have about five lines of a scene but nothing to go with any of it. And all of these have happened to me. I don’t have a damn thing more than that, I have to make the story match up to the brilliance of the initial idea. It’s fucking hard!

So, as with all the other hard things we do in life (and everyone I know has admitted to this with things that are not their writing) we put it off. We find things to do. I will, as I previously mentioned, go get my hands dug into slimy cold raw chicken before I willingly sit down to write promotional copy. Other people clean their bathrooms. Other people exercise. Once a year you get to use “I have to do my taxes” as an excuse. Anything to avoid writing, even writing your best ideas, because writing that brilliant idea that thrilled and inspired you a moment ago and having the finished product turn out looking like crap? That hurts. A lot. So you find other things to do rather than try and be disappointed in yourself, angry with yourself. Sick at heart that this brilliant idea didn’t live up to its potential because you suck.

And getting into this habit extends it to other aspects of your creative life. You put off writing that story you had the brilliant idea for because the time isn’t right, because the muse isn’t there, because you’re not inspired. Let me tell you, inspiration as a necessity for writing is bullshit, there will be at least one blog post about that later on. It’s helpful if you have inspiration. It’s far from necessary, especially when finding that inspiration, that feeling, that passion, becomes an excuse not to plant your butt into that chair and get writing. Because anything and everything will become that excuse. You have to do dishes. You have to do laundry. You have to pay your bills, write your folks, go to work, go to the gym. Clean your bathroom. Prep your dinners. 

This becomes, there are reasons you can’t submit to that short story market. Like, you have too many projects on hand right now, you’re keeping a much larger house and you have to clean it and do the DIY. You don’t have time because you have half a dozen other projects on. You have to do this other thing. The market will close sooner than you can get a story prepped. It’s too small, it’s not worth it. It’s too big, you’ll never get in. Shut up, stop whining, schedule yourself some time to sit your ass down and write. No, it’s not as glamorous as being inspired by divine muses, but if being a published writer is something you want to do (and note that qualifier, published writer; if being a published writer isn’t something you aspire to then by all means, write in the way that fulfills you best) then you need to submit to publications. Or self-publish. If you want to be a thing, you have to do the actions that lead to those consequences. If you want to be a noun related to a verb, you have to perform that verb’s actions. Writers write. Published writers submit for publication, or self-publish. Aspiring writers follow their aspirations. You see where I’m going with this?

Finding reasons not to do a thing that will fulfill your goals becomes an art form. The most common reason that I see for self-sabotage, at least in the people around me, is the crippling fear of success. Impostor syndrome’s a bitch, and it never goes away, not that I can tell. We look at the thing we want to do, we look at ourselves, we go holy fuck that’s a long ways off, and we find reasons not to submit to that magazine. Not to try out for that play. Not to sign up for that music course. Because god forbid we try and fail, nothing’s worse than failure, right? Nothing’s worse than public failure, than having all your friends and loved ones standing around seeing you face down in the mud where you fell. No, there’s something worse, there’s success. How scary is that? You could succeed, you could succeed yourself to death, build yourself up as a successful published NYT Bestselling writer and then people would have expectations of you. And what happens when you then fail to meet them, because you know in your heart of hearts that you’re just faking this, right? So why set yourself up for that? You can’t write that story, anyway, you lost that inspiring feeling. You can’t submit to that market, anyway, they close in two weeks, and you just don’t have time.

Self-sabotage. It happens more often than you think. It’s an insidious little fucker who sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear and gives you all the reasons why you should play it safe. And then you wonder why you’re not getting anywhere.

And yes, if you try, you will fail. And you’ll succeed. And you’ll succeed and then you’ll fail. And sometimes you’ll fail your way right into a success you weren’t expecting. I put off self-publishing all last year because I was buying a house, and felt like crap at the end of it even though I got my house of awesome, because I had failed to both buy a house and publish a book. And somehow I failed the self-publishing while buying a house thing, failed my way right into a group of contacts and a helper and more encouragement and, well. You get the idea. But in order to achieve either success or failure, you have to get your ass out there and try. Or, in the case of writers, get your ass in that chair and write. Do what you have to do, flick the self-sabotage goblin off your shoulder and tell him to fuck off somewhere else, you’re busy getting shit done. Because you don’t have time for that crap. You’re busy being awesome.