Category Archives: Weasels and Wargs

We all get ’em. My fears, and how I deal with them, in the hopes that you might have some inspiration for how to deal with your own demons, or at least so that we all know we’re not alone.

It’s Got Anxiety

I am doing too many projects too close together, in too much of a state of near-readiness (okay to be fair one would be in too much of a state of near readiness) and I am taking all of these self-imposed deadlines way too hard. I can tell this because I’ve turned myself into a living embodiment of the “it’s got anxiety” meme. Do not do this.

It’s not as though I didn’t have warning. The entire back half of last year was spent doing twenty things in a day and muttering to myself that this incessant need to be productive, to justify things that are not productive (watching TV, playing Diablo) with finishing absolutely everything beforehand. It’s not even as though this is uncommon! I don’t know off the top of my head what any of the technical terms for it are, but I know it’s not uncommon. (Editrix: f we’re talking SUPER technical that’s totally in the OCD family of anxiety; workaholism, superwoman complex, my desperate need to go stab John Calvin in the face?) (Thank you, my dear, the swords are in the garage loft.)

Let’s have a breakdown, pun entirely intended, of what’s going on now. I’m writing this blog post so I don’t have to look at Sandborn and deal with the last few edits before it goes off to the Editrix for a second pass. After which it’s entirely possible that all the major structural edits will be done and all that’s left is typos and word choices before it goes to publication, so there’s that anxiety. Then there’s White Lightning, which is so far behind schedule it’s come all the way around to potentially be on schedule a year later, plus trying to balance this with finishing the draft of Long Road so that can sit and percolate. I’m studying Arabic and Hindi and making slow progress, which is great, but I’ve started these languages for the third time. All of last year was wheel spinning. Not the crafty fun kind. I’ve picked up guitar, which is going fine except for not managing to do regular exercises in the exercise-a-day book the way I want to, I’ve started drawing which… no, actually, that may be the one thing that doesn’t have a caveat attached to it. So I have that going for me. But my online course in bio is semi-comprehensible at best and I seem to attach the same kind of importance to that as I do to classes I took in real live school, so that’s not helping. We’ve got a fair amount of blog-work to do that, given the timeframe, is not awful but needs to be addressed before it becomes so. Plus martial arts, plus eating healthy, plus dressing myself and keeping a budget, plus plus plus.

And part of this is almost definitely that I’m still wobbly on time management and the very small margin for exhaustion I leave myself. And part of this is that no, I do not have a deadline on the progress I make in the umpty-million languages I want to progress in, I do not have a deadline on the guitar or the drawing, if I do not get the practice in every night it’s fine. If I take a night to do nothing but write and play Diablo, that’s fine too. If I go to bed early and skip Arabic and Hindi for a night, that’s okay. If I decide to up and quit either or both of those languages, no one is going to penalize me but me.

This is where one of those we are our own worst enemies. We give it coming and going, coming with the scheduling and going when we inevitably realize that we’ve fucked ourselves over and there is no room to breathe here, we forgot to allow ourselves time to be human. To have nervous fits, to have bad days, to catch colds, to have something break. Ourselves or the material we’re working with, pick one. We’re not machines. We get tired.

I don’t know why this is such a hard concept for me to grasp. I try to comfort myself by telling myself this isn’t just me, I’m not the only one that does this. Whether or not I believe myself is a whole other story again, because see also anxiety and the chaos in my head tends to eschew sensibility in favor of whatever is most dramatic at the time. Normally this would also be the part in the blog post when I offer a pithy solution, but I don’t have any of those either.

The only solution or saving grace I have to offer is this self-examination. Good habits, and several years of reminding myself that downtime is just as important as productivity. More so, because it gets left by the wayside so often. Sleep, as my doctor recently reminded me, is essential to good health. Rest is, also. Anxiety and memes and compulsive need to measure up to ridiculous standards aside, my worth as a human being is not measured by how many amazing and useful things i can get done in a day, and neither is yours. We can be our own worst enemies, or we can breathe and take a moment and be our own allies the way we would for any other friend.

There are enough things in this world trying to tear us down, tear us apart. Let’s try and not be one of them.

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.


Fighting Monsters

It’s been a rough couple of months. There may be rambling.

There was one week there where, in the same week, there was a sudden death of a friend of the family, a work injury (not mine, but in my household) that required a visit to urgent care, and a gas explosion a couple miles from my house. A fireball 200 feet tall that Michael Bay would have been proud of. That was a tense couple of hours till the gas got turned off and the fire was put out. And that was just one week. Granted, it hasn’t all been that dramatic, but for the past couple of months it feels as though every time I get up, something new happens to punch me back down. It’s only in the last week and a half, two weeks, that I’ve been able to approach anything like my level of functionality, which brings with it the realization of how long I’ve been listing from task to task like a crippled galleon. Too damn long. And for the most part, it’s circumstantial. I had my annual physical the Monday or so after the fireball and when I listed off the past week to my doctor (because I clicked yes to the have-you-experienced-feelings-of-sadness-or-depression box on the appointment questionnaire and they didn’t have a ticky box for “look, shit’s just been happening lately”) he got a bit wide-eyed and agreed that that’d do it. Call him if the depression doesn’t ease up when life eases up a bit and we’d discuss treatment. Thankfully, life eased up and the depression did turn out to be situational instead of clinical. I’m nearly back to functionality, that being teetering on the edge of overextending myself and thinking that if I just shuffle my schedule I can take on this one more project…

It’s been a rough weekend on the internet. Primarily because of Dylan Farrow’s open letter and Philip Seymour Hoffman, my various friends have been expressing various emotions, among them shock and grief and hurt and rage and sorrow and perplexity and disappointment and. Lots of emotions. Lots of ands. No major fights that I can see, thankfully. I will always be grateful to my mother for raising me to understand, and to try to live by, that emotions are not bad or wrong. Emotions are emotions, they simply are. They’re what you feel. And what you choose to do with them, the actions that you take, that can be good or bad, right or wrong. It’s wrong to hit someone if you feel angry. It’s wrong to tear someone down and call them names if you feel sad and upset. It’s wrong to dance a victory jig around someone who’s hurting and make them hurt even more. But feeling that happiness or anger or what have you isn’t, it’s the human condition to have emotional responses to outside stimuli. On the internet, if you don’t type out what you’re thinking, no one can see you collapsed in your chair in spasms of schadenfreude-induced laughter. And, whatever the cause of that laughter, no one gets hurt by it.

A rough weekend on the internet. A lot of people have said a lot of things, and a lot of those things were hurtful. A whole lot of those things were disappointing. Let’s see, how many people have I been disappointed by this week? At least one. A big one, a writer I really admire, and I sit back in my chair and I feel sad and betrayed and upset, and I go “Oh Stephen King no,” and I kind of want to yell at him a bit. That won’t help. So I go grab a glass of water and take a five to stretch and come back and look at that again, and think, “Okay. I really like you, guy. You’ve taught me a lot about writing, a bit about life, you seem like a decent guy and you help a lot of people. And on balance, I still like you. But, dude, that was a cruel thing to say.” (He has since apologized.) Stephen King will never hear that I said these things (unless he inexplicably finds his way to my blog, in which case, um, hi?), but I’ve resolved the conflicted feelings in my head, or at least started on a resolution.

It’s a hell of a lot harder when the person you admire and adore, or at least look up to and like, turns out to be an unquestionably terrible person. When there is no possible reason or excuse that makes the bad deeds better, and you have to reconcile your experiences and the accustomed pathways of your emotions with the knowledge that this person is a horrible human being. By your standards, or by standards so widely adopted that they might as well be universal. How do you deal with that? I genuinely don’t know, I haven’t been in that position yet, and I’m glad and grateful. Going by responses I’ve seen over the last weekend, a lot of people have opted to deny it ever happened. That’s not the route I would choose. It’s an easier path, quicker, more seductive, yes I just went there, but I don’t think I would choose that. I won’t know until it happens, if it happens.

The impulse is there, though, isn’t it. Not just in the Dylan Farrow situation, but even in the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. To shy away from it and say, it wasn’t like that. It didn’t happen. My idol isn’t that horrible creature. My inspiration wasn’t that struggling person. These are strong, shining beacons of skill and talent in one area or another, they’re not human beings, they don’t have flaws. That’s a seductive fucker of a lie, right there. Or alternatively we can lie and say, this person was weak. That person was stupid. As though we’ve never had a stupid moment in our life. Never made a mistake. We can say and think all kinds of things to comfort ourselves, to make ourselves safer in at least the feeling if not accurate knowledge that bad things won’t happen to us because we’re good, we’re right, we do the right things and that means we get happy endings.

Even if we know that’s not true. It’s total bullshit. When things are going well, we have to believe it because it keeps us going on, doing the things we do, hoping for a good result. When things are going poorly we have to believe it because it can get better. But when things get really bad, when the hits just keep on coming, when a gas line explodes and a relative gets cancer and a friend dies and you find yourself making unforseen trips to urgent care, you kind of can take comfort in the unfriendliness and unfairness of the universe. It’s not personal. It’s not anything you did. Shit happens. You don’t always get a happy ending, sometimes the monsters win.

When we’re kids, we read stories that do for the most part have happy endings. The heroine conquers the evil witch, the hero slays the mad sorcerer, and they get to go home happy at the end. Unicorns come back to the world. The sister rescues her baby brother. The world is made whole again. And all of that comes after the scary parts, the eight foot scarlet demon with the horns the width of your entire body, the demonic bull made of fire, the alien dripping acid. Your parents try to comfort you when you have nightmares about the scary parts, they tell you the monsters aren’t real. They don’t remind you that if the monsters aren’t real, neither are the happy endings, or any other part of the story. But, okay, the monsters aren’t real, nothing’s going to creep out of the closet or through the window in the middle of the night, or out of your book. There is no clown in the sewers coming to drag you down.

When I was a kid, okay, older than a kid, I was a young teenager then. And my baby brother had nightmares, and by this point I was pretty much helping my Mom raise my siblings, and so on this particular night I had to deal with the monsters under the bed. Well, hell. I know how to deal with this. Sure, sometimes there are monsters. But we know how to deal with their ugly mugs. I put gargoyles around the room, and had one of them face the bed and one of them face outwards, so they could watch from all sides. That’s what gargoyles are for, I told him, they were created long ago to protect people. I have a few to spare.

I was raised by intellectual hippies. Not even kidding. I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, see also and up above about letting your feelings be what they are. I was raised on peace and love, In Harmony and Free to Be You And Me and A Woman Is (does anyone remember that book?) and the Beatles and spent my summers on a commune/farm collecting eggs and making mud palaces by the duck pond. And books. Lots of books. All kinds of books. I learned all kinds of things about monsters. I learned that you can make anything a mantra to keep back the evil spirits (Stephen King). I learned that mirrors are magic places and you can change yourself to be as powerful as your enemy, if you have courage. (Margaret Mahy). I learned that there is power in sisterhood (Jane Yolen) and family can be born and sometimes really shitty but also worth forgiving (CS Lewis) or family can be made and hard-won (Katherine Paterson). I learned that the really dangerous monsters keep their heart in another place, so you can’t confront them head on, you have to find the heart and take it the fuck out (Russian folk tales). I learned that sometimes you make the monsters (John Bellairs) and sometimes you are the monster (Robert Louis Stevenson) and sometimes the way to defeat the monster is just to make friends (George MacDonald) because it turns out the monster was just a person like you.

I never did manage to get the Goblin King to show up and take my baby brother away (sorry baby brother!) but I learned a hell of a lot from him. From the stories. From all the monsters I fought with all the heroes and heroines and even some of the villains. I even learned to accept the fact that there are no happy endings, because nothing ends, and everything in circles. End, begin, all the same. Big change. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. 80s children if you did not hear that in Aughra’s voice I am disappoint. (Dark Crystal.) I learned that people can fuck up and be forgiven, and that there is grace in both sides. And that, too, sometimes when you break something there is no taking it back, and no forgiving. And you just have to accept that.

So, monsters. Demons to slay. When you become an adult you’re supposed to put away childish things, the idea that you can solve riddles and do quests and rescue something or someone and slay a monster and call it a day. I clung somewhat harder to my books and movies than most, and it did get me in trouble a bit when I was an older teen/young adult. But it also got me out of it again. You see, my young apprentice, many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view, and why is it childish for a person to be a princess but adultlike to confront your inner demons? Why do we tell our children that monsters don’t exist, don’t worry about them, and then turn around and describe people who hurt children as monsters in the press? Unless, of course, they’re rich and famous and have many awards, and then it’s a clusterfuck. No, there aren’t vampires that wear capes and talk in thick regional accents and suck blood and burn in the daylight. But there are people who seduce and sap your energy. There aren’t boogeymen under the bed, but there are people who think it fine to sneak into your bedroom at night and do monstrous things. They’re not common. They’re rare, but they exist. There are monsters. And the scariest part is, they look like people. Fingers and toes and eyes and nose and they look like people you meet on the street. Sometimes you have to look really close into the mirror, and if you squint, you’ll see the monster. Monsters totally exist. But the good news? You can fight them.

Not alone. And not without practice, sometimes a lot of practice. The monsters that come from outside are easiest; you build walls, you set up guardians, you hone your weapons, and you attack or defend as you have resources. The monsters that come from within, those are harder. Those take a lot of practice. You might have to consult a wizard, a witch, or a sage, which we call a counselor or a therapist. You might want to talk to a priest, by whatever name you call that person. It’s good to have backup, because those little shits are insidious. They lie, remember? They say things about how that horrible thing isn’t true, that would never happen to you. They lie and sneak up on you and have the irritating habit of coming in swarms. And they’re not nearly so obvious as SUV sized scuttling crabs or razor-taloned harpies, so you have to know what you’re looking at and see them coming. Naming them is a good first step, it’s one of the first things we learn from folk and fairy tales, names have power. Just ask Rumplestiltskin. Name your monsters, learn their ways and weaknesses, gird yourself, and locate your backup.

And don’t forget to kick back and have a good rest after a day of monster fighting. You’ve earned it.

Writer Fail

So, I lost Nanowrimo.

It was inevitable, and I knew it by the first week. My brain was seizing upon everything else that I had to get done and shuffling writing to the bottom of the heap, and I was letting it. No real reason. Or a combination of reasons, none of them amounting to anything other than bad discipline. Something I need to work on!

Okay, I made that sound incredibly flippant, and it’s not. I’m still struggling with the discipline to write every day, to get these two projects done. Part of it is that it’s holiday season in the retail industry, and therefore work is busy and I get home exhausted. Plus I had a holiday to host. But that all came at the end of the month, and there’s really no excuse for not having built up a block of words before then, especially as fast and efficiently as I habitually write. It’s discipline. Or my lack thereof. Something I’m trying to rebuild one day and one paragraph at a time.

Nanowrimo is half the reason I developed discipline in the first place. When you start out as a writer you don’t come with deadlines, you don’t come with requirements, you come with an imagination and, hopefully, a pair of hands and maybe a pencil and paper or a computer, a typewriter, some way to get the words in your head, out of it. You have to go out looking for deadlines. For requirements. You might find them working for a newspaper, usually a school newspaper, or you might find them in writing contests. Or these days, in fan-fiction marathons and contests and give-aways and things like that. I found mine in Nanowrimo. It was great! It would encourage me to write every day and, what, 1,667 words a day? That was nothing. I could write that in an hour. And I did! For years. It came along just at the right time, it provided structure when I needed it, and now it’s there when I need to drag my focus back into the self-work spotlight. Like now!

Some years, working Nanowrimo is as simple as sit butt in chair, write X number of words dealing with scenes A-C, sometimes it’s not so much. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the spinning will wait, the leatherworking isn’t actually that important, my house is not a disaster area that needs scorched earth cleaning tactics, and that DVD isn’t going anywhere. This year I probably could have stood to remember that I didn’t need to bake ten potatoes and a sweet potato pie the size of a CPU for five people’s Thanksgiving dinner. I needed to sit my dumb ass in the chair and write, and I didn’t. Now Nanowrimo’s over, I didn’t win, and while I’m not beating myself up about it nearly as bad as I used to (you don’t want to do that, it’s unproductive and making yourself feel horrible is never a winning strategy) I am trying to use it as an impetus to dig deeper into what’s keeping me from getting this done.

My chief suspect is disappointment. High expectations and the self-esteem yo-yo aided and abetted, but disappointment is to blame for this. I published my first indie anthology, Black Ice, through Lulu earlier this year, and I didn’t do hardly any publicity at all. I was scared. No, wrong tense, I still am scared. I had no idea how to bring it to dead tree form. I had no ideas for how to offer incentive to buy the book, or at least, no ideas that I felt ready to bring to fruition. I panicked, basically, and I froze, and I posted on Twitter and tumblr and we mentioned it in Unspooling Fiction and that was that. Predictably, I sold maybe four copies.

And while that’s fine as far as not putting me in a spotlight I wasn’t emotionally or logistically ready for, it’s not so good for encouraging me with success, or bolstering my ego. Which also may not be what needs to happen. I had a lot of early success, and that screwed me up in the head for a good long while. But what I’m coming to learn with every successive year is that there really isn’t anything that’s good for not screwing oneself up in the head. We are, as a species, amazing for finding counter-productive thought patterns. If it were an Olympic sport among thinking species we’d take the gold every single time. So, here’s my counter-productive thought pattern: my first book release was a dismal failure, ergo I am a dismal failure, ergo I should just quit now and only make half-hearted attempts at writing because why bother do I really need to go on with this? I’m sure you’ve heard this before. I’m only slightly less sure you have the same thing running on constant loop in your own mind. Lots of us do.

So I failed Nanowrimo.  And I failed at having a Breakout Novel success. And that’s fine. On my own time, then. But for the person I want to be, the writer I want to be, my own time had better be now. Butt in chair, fingers to keyboard, write X words and scenes A-C today. Nanowrimo taught me that discipline over ten years ago, and today it’s teaching me that I need to keep it up, no matter what my counter-productive thought-weasels are trying to tell me.

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.

Writing Is Not A Zero Sum Game

So, the last Bad Brain Day I had snuck up on me, though in retrospect maybe I should have known better. Yesterday, the day after the Boston Bombings, I woke up feeling… better. Not one hundred percent, not ready to leap out of bed and attack the garden with my trowel and magic bucket, or ready to write all the things or what have you, but better. No more bombings had happened, the various law enforcement agencies had things well in hand, people were recovering. The world hadn’t ended. It was a new day. Then, a couple hours into my day job, I started to sink. Lack of recognition on Twitter meant everyone was just humoring me and I wasn’t part of my newfound Twitter family really. Lack of people on my mailing list meant no one cared about my macaroni art novels. (This is a Thing, if I’m having a moment where my novels are silly and foolish and childish and no one will want to read them except my mother, they’re macaroni art. For those not grown up with such things, it seems to be a common primary school exercise to glue macaroni onto cardboard, paint it colors, and call it art.) I couldn’t get anywhere on any project I was working on.

So I went over to my journal feed and looked around on the network and see what everyone else in my corner of the world was up to. And for the first few entries it was okay. People going on about their lives, some having bad days, some having better days, some having days where all you could do was stand back and go “… huh?” and maybe laugh nervously. Until I came across one post from a certain author describing the half-dozen or so projects she had going on at the moment. And even though this wouldn’t be a problem on a healthy day, on that particular day I looked at that post and was overwhelmed with the feelings of: “Oh god. She’s sold all that, she’s publishing all that? I’ll never be that badass. I can’t even write that much in a year.” (Which, let me tell you, given how much I can write in a year that’s already a sign that my brain is going sideways.) “I might as well give up now, I suck and should go die in a hole.

Really? Fucking really? This is what we’re going to do today, brain? Okay, fuck you, we’re going into emergency mode, and all you little weasels trying to become big bad wargs back there can sit your ego and esteem-chewing butts down and shut the hell up. Fuck you, I’m awesome.

(This is another mantra I employ to cut down the brain-weasels who would cut me down instead. Fuck You, I’m Awesome.)

The root cause of this is the assumption that writing ability, talent, skill, whatever you want to call it that published writers have that I, you, we don’t, is a zero sum game. It isn’t. This is an all too common trap that we fall into thinking about, it’s one I’ve been tripping over for years if not decades. Because this author is successful, because this author is doing half a dozen projects at once or this author has a movie trilogy deal, that means that you don’t get one. There’s less for you. You’ll never get one, they’ve taken one out of the limited pool for your lifetime and you might as well give up now. Logistically, there are only so many production companies to make so many movies per year, actors and directors can’t be in two places at once, composers can only make so much music, etc. Skill, though? Talent? Fuck that. There is no magical talent fairy who sprinkles dust from a limited vat all over you and your works, and if someone else has things people like that means less dust for you. That’s not how it works. That’s not even how talent works, talent will get you started on the path, maybe even pick the path that’s less stony and full of brambles for you, but then you have to get your ass moving down that path. You have to do the work, put in the time to practice the skills. Just because someone’s further down that path than you are, or at a stage or three ahead, doesn’t mean the rest of that path is closed to you, doesn’t mean you can’t get to Carnegie Hall. You’ll just have to book a later date. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Writing is not a zero sum game. A zero sum game being a mathematical construct whereby the scores of all participants, if tallied together, balance out with all wins and losses equaling zero; if you have a lot of wins, someone else must have a lot of losses to reach zero. And that’s fine. For mathematics. As any physicist will tell you (if it moves, it’s biology, if it stinks, it’s chemistry, if it doesn’t work, it’s physics) mathematics doesn’t always work in the rest of the world. It damn well isn’t a good model for predicting the path of your writing career. Another person’s success does not diminish your potential. And it certainly shouldn’t deter you from spending your time and your energy how you choose. If it makes you happy to write, write. If you feel you want to share it with the world, submit. Or self-publish. In today’s world it’s become easier than ever before to put your work out there for people to read.

I know why this happens, this delusion that other people’s successes mean I can’t have any of my own. It’s a pre-emptive excuse for why I don’t succeed, if I don’t succeed. It’s an excuse not to try in case I fail. It’s that little voice of depression in the back of my head saying I’m not enough, not pretty enough or good enough or talented enough or, well, whatever. It’s one more way for my brain to fuck with me when I’m too exhausted to employ standard defense mechanisms.

At least by now, I recognize it. If it won’t be shot down by subconscious routines, I’ll kill it with conscious repetition and thought, or outright ignoring it if I have to. I have work to do, and I can’t be putting up with this shabby crap from my own thoughts. And yes, ignoring it or shutting it down depletes my energy some, and maybe I won’t be able to do all the things I meant to do and would have done if it were a more normal day. But writing and publishing, or sewing and costuming, or photography or cooking or a whole lot of other fields, is still not a zero sum game. And when I build my fire higher, it won’t diminish the heat given off by theirs.