So, as I’m sure you remember from my last post — what’s that? You don’t remember my last post? Well — it was a while ago. You should probably go read that first and then come back:
So, as I’m sure you remember from my last post, I’d been struggling with the fact that I haven’t been getting any real writing done, and that I was stuck choosing between projects — putting aside the amateur Doctor Who fan film script I wanted to finish, my two courses of action I was trying to decide between were a.) finishing the new original novel I currently have in progress, or b.) writing a sequel to Still Life so I’d have better start on having a series of books to promote.
Well, shortly after writing that post about the trouble I was having making that decision, the obvious answer just popped effortlessly into my head, complete and inarguable:
I was sad about not having a new book published to promote last year at Halloween. It would therefore be awfully nice to have a new book published to promote this year at Halloween. I can obviously finish the existing novel faster than I could write a whole new one from scratch. So, obviously, I needed to finish the existing novel. QED.
I was so relieved to have resolved this that I felt so much more relaxed, lighter, happier.
So naturally, I immediately sat down and finished the Doctor Who fan film script.
Look — I don’t claim to understand this brain, I just have to live in it.
The script is great, I couldn’t be happier with it. I think it’s going to be a fun, exciting project, and I think the end result is going to be great — I honestly think I’ve managed to come up with a story that feels suitably epic and yet well within my means to pull off. Not sure yet when I will be able to start actual production in earnest — I really should probably get myself a day job first — but I’m definitely looking forward to it.
Writing that script was about as effortless as writing gets, for me. So much of it already existed in my head — I’d been mulling over the scenes and dialog for years, so they spilled out onto the page like so many smooth and polished river stones. It’s still just a first draft, and there are a few tweaks I need to make here and there, but it’s a hell of a first draft.
Has that experience managed to put me back in the habit of writing? Yeeeeaahh, not so much, unfortunately. I still haven’t managed to pull off any “real” writing projects. (Any writing I can’t turn around and sell isn’t Real Art, you understand. At least, that’s what Capitalism tells me, and try as I might, I haven’t been able to unlearn that idea. So despite the fact that the script took just as much brain sweat, talent and craft as any other bit of writing I could work on, I still feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. But anyway.)
Recently, my friend and editor Elisabeth Knottingham approached me because she is also trying to get back into the writing saddle. You know, the one that goes on the …. writing …. horse. Look, it’s a metaphor, all right? I’d be able to pull one off with a lot more confidence if I’d been writing regularly. So anyway, she proposed that we come up with a word target and a weekly deadline for both of us to try to hit, and to hold each other mutually accountable. It’s not a bad idea. We both completely failed to produce anything last week, but we’re trying again now. We’ll see if we manage.
And since she asked me — half-jokingly, I’m pretty sure — if she could count her contribution to a long Facebook thread toward her word count, I’m declaring it now — I am totally claiming this post toward my word count. All 700 words of it.
Now to get back to work on that novel. Or maybe — well, Elisabeth thinks I should ease myself back to work with some short stories. So there’s another decision to over-analyze. I’ll let you know how it goes.
In ancient Rome, there was a poem
About a dog who found two bones
He picked at one, he licked the other
He went in circles, he dropped dead
— DEVO, “Freedom of Choice”
Okay, so you may have noticed that I haven’t started blogging regularly like I said I would. God knows I’ve certainly noticed that. And Not-Blogging may not have killed me yet, but I’m not feeling great about it, either.
This is symptomatic of a larger problem. As I alluded to in that previous post, I haven’t really been doing any real writing so far this whole calendar year. As you might guess, this is . . . . kind of messing me up, a little. I’m not doing the thing that I was designed to do, and that’s not the healthiest place to be in.
What’s the problem, here? Why am I not writing?
A good part of it is just . . . lethargy, depression, a general lack of energy and drive. That’s something I’m trying to work on, mainly with changing my diet and getting some damn exercise every once in a while. Slow progress, incremental steps.
The real problem is analysis paralysis.
Wikipedia defines analysis paralysis as:
. . . . the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. A decision can be treated as over-complicated, with too many detailed options, so that a choice is never made, rather than try something and change if a major problem arises. A person might be seeking the optimal or “perfect” solution upfront, and fear making any decision which could lead to erroneous results, when on the way to a better solution.
In my case, the decision that I’m constantly over-thinking is, which of my projects “should” take precedence at any given moment?
My actual current projects include:
Projects that I’ve been thinking about a lot include:
That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of right now.
Let’s talk about that last one. That’s the one that I have the hardest time figuring out if it should be my highest priority or my lowest priority. On the one hand, it’s a project that I’ve been working on props and ideas for since I was fifteen years old, I have a tremendous amount of passion for it, and honestly, if I came down with a fatal illness tomorrow, not making that damn film would probably be my biggest dying regret. So, it’s a big deal, right?
But . . . . The nagging little voices set in, telling me that it’s just a folly, that by definition I can’t make any money on it and so therefore it isn’t a real project, right? It’s not professional, and I should be working on something that will actually be part of my career. Okay. Fine.
On the professional front, the two big ones that loom over me are the novel-in-progress and the theoretical Still Life sequel. Two seemingly equally valid arguments bounce back and forth in my head:
Both of these make sense. Each argument perfectly counterbalances the other.
And so I end up doing nothing. I can’t make myself work on any one project, because whenever I’m about to, I think, “how can you be working on this when you have these other things to do?”
Something’s gotta give.
Look out! What’s that sneaking up behind you? Why, it looks like it’s another Crypticon, Seattle’s very own horror convention! And once again, I will be returning as a panelist, and if you’re going to be there, you should totally come to my panels, and if you’re not going to be there, then fine, I see how you are. Here are the deets:
PNW Horror Appreciation and Friendship Society
5PM Columbia A
“Come hang out with your fellow FB group folks. Say hi to old friends, and meet some new ones. There might be cookies!”
Kick-Ass Horror Films You’ve Never Seen
9PM Columbia A
“Are you sick to death of all the tired remakes and endless sequels? Come join this panel and unearth a world of great horror films that have slipped through the cracks! From old films to new ones, creepy to funny, disturbing to gory splatterfests! There is something for every kind of genre film fan!”
Writing Horror: Avoiding the Pitfalls and Rocking the Story
5PM Columbia A
“No. Do NOT write that story about the mugging victim who turns out to be a vampire/werewolf /demon /serial killer. It seems like every story has been told and retold a thousand times, so how do you create something new? What makes for a good plot? How do you make your characters believable and not cliches?” (I’m the moderator of this one!)
Sparkly Vampires and PG-13 Horror: Genre-killing Crap or Horror Gateway Drug?
“OK, most horror fans can’t stand Twilight, and a lot of hardcore gore-hounds sneer at PG-13 horror films. But is it possible they’re influencing the next generation to become horror fans? Or are they just dead-end money machines?”
I look forward to Crypticon every year, natch, for the fun panels, great dealer’s room, advance film screenings, and hanging out with the friends I’ve made there in past years. But this year I’m especially looking forward to it, because I’m bringing Jennifer Lovely, my co-host on the horror movie podcast Don’t Read the Latin! (Which we’ve been doing for a whole year now, so if you haven’t checked that out, you really should!)
You might notice I have no panels scheduled for Sunday; I’ll still be around early on, but will be taking off in time to catch the 4:00pm showing of Valley of the Sasquatch at SIFF. I’ve enjoyed John Portanova’s previous work on The Invoking and The Device, so I can’t wait to check out his feature debut as a director.
So yesterday, somewhere on Facebook, I think, I saw one of those quotes for writers — you know the kind, a quote that’s meant to be “inspirational?” Here’s the pearl of wisdom in question:
“I can write anywhere. If the story is in you, it’ll come out wherever you are. Writing is something that you cannot NOT do, if it’s in your soul.” — James McBride, author of The Color of Water
And my immediate reaction was basically, “Fuck all of this.”
I’ve seen this kind of attitude before. (I’ve written about it before, too, in a post titled “You Are Not Crazy And Writing Is Not A Compulsion.”) The idea that you’re only a real writer if, supposing you were thrown in jail without pen and paper, you would bite off your fingertips to write on the walls in your own blood, or some such bullshit.
“Not writing” is really easy. Anyone can not write. I’ve been managing to Not Write for months now. There’s always something else that can quite easily take your time and attention, from your day job to your social life to tackling that sink full of dishes, already.
Actually sitting down and making yourself write is about discipline, and that’s something you can get better at if you spend time and effort on it. It’s something that can slip every once in a while, too, and that’s fine, because you are a human being and you are not required to be perfect all the damn time.
And nobody, anywhere, ever, has the right to look down on you and throw you out of the Real Writers’ Club because you’re not making the word count you want to be making.
Don’t ever doubt, if there’s some voice in your soul telling you to write, that that voice is any less real and valid than anyone else’s, just because you are not absolutely driven by it. Do these other writers honestly find that writing is something they “cannot NOT do?” Sure, maybe. I think they’re lying to make themselves look good, personally; I think they’re trying to make writing look like something lofty and magical that only the Special Anointed People can do. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe thousands of words just flow out of their fingers every day because they just can’t help it. Sure, why not?
But the rest of us have to work for it.
Do I sound angry? I am. I’m angry at myself for not writing more, and paradoxically, I’m angry at myself for letting myself buy into this bullshit and hating myself for not writing more. But I’m especially angry at the people who spread this kind of nonsense, who make the rest of us feel like maybe we just lack some magical spark inside if we dare to fall behind, and who make us wonder if maybe we should just give up.
Don’t give up. You have that spark. Sometimes it just takes work and commitment to fan it into a flame.
I had a moment, driving home last night, when a sentence popped into my head that struck me as something that Nikki Velvet, my lead character from Still Life, would say. And just like that, I think I have the first line of my next novel. Sometimes, tiny little bits of writing are that effortless; they happen to you while you’re doing other things. (Don’t worry, I wrote the line down when I got home.)
It reminded me of an article I’d read the other day, one inspired by William Gibson mentioning that one of his characters from a previous book had showed up to his mental “casting call” for a new one:
While Gibson was referring to the character ‘turning up unannounced’ in his imagination, it’s interesting the way in which the character seems to have moved forward with his life regardless of the author’s own thinking – as if created characters live on independently in that otherworld referred to by Alan Moore as ‘ideaspace’.
And strangely, authors have reported seeing their fictional creations act in this independent manner not only in their minds, but also ‘in real life’ – especially in the worlds of science fiction and comic books. Alan Moore himself has mentioned in an interview that he once saw one of his creations, the mage John Constantine (from the Hellblazer [comics] series), in a sandwich bar in London. “All of a sudden, up the stairs came John Constantine,” Moore revealed. “He looked exactly like John Constantine. He looked at me, stared me straight in the eyes, smiled, nodded almost conspiratorially, and then just walked off around the corner to the other part of the snack bar.”
Another comics writer, Grant Morrison, has had a similar experience with Superman:
I’ve told this story in more detail elsewhere but basically, we were trying to […] figure out a new way into the character of Superman and coming up short… Until we looked up to see a guy dressed as Superman crossing the train tracks. Not just any skinny convention guy in an ill-fitting suit, this guy actually looked like Superman. It was too good a moment to let pass, so I ran over to him, told him what we’d been trying to do and asked if he wouldn’t mind indulging us by answering some questions about Superman, which he did…in the persona and voice of Superman!
Which may sound like just play-acting, but Morrison refers to this moment as “shamanic,” and in the same interview he talks about another comics writer from years past, Alvin Schwartz, who had a “notion of Superman as a tulpa, (a Tibetan word for a living thought form which has an independent existence beyond its creator) and claims he actually met the Man of Steel in the back of a taxi.”
All of which might sound a little crazy to you, and if it does, this will sound a little crazy to you, too:
I saw Nikki Velvet, once.
It was a few months after I’d finally finished writing Still Life. I was out at the Mercury, a nightclub in Seattle that also happens to feature as a location of a few scenes in the novel. Across the room, I saw this girl —
And stopped dead in my tracks. I don’t describe Nikki in great detail in the book, beyond her close-cropped, bleached-blonde hair, but I had certainly pictured her in detail while I was writing, and — this was her. I recognized her, as sure as if it were someone I actually knew and remembered.
I’d never seen her there before, and I’ve never seen her since. I asked around, and none of my friends knew who she was.
I could have gone over and said something to her. But — what, exactly? If I told her the truth, I was worried it would come across as the weirdest and most pretentious pick-up line of all time.
Besides, I had this weird, electric, left-of-center feeling of heightened reality, just catching glances of her from across the room. Colors too real, details too sharp, a feeling like I’d had seeing UFOs when I was a kid.
I didn’t want to ruin that. Sure, I could have gone over and proven to myself what I rationally knew was true — that this was just an ordinary girl who happened to look the way I’d imagined a character I’d created looks.
But I didn’t, and instead, I left room in my life for uncollapsed wild possibility — honoring my imagination, and giving respect to wherever it is characters and ideas and all of that crazy magic comes from — and let myself believe, just a little bit, that Nikki Velvet had really come out to the club that night with her friends, just to let me see her, and just to let me know that, after everything I had put her through — she was happy and safe.
Don’t you hate those posts on blogs that basically just say, “Sorry I haven’t been blogging!” Well, this is one of those, kind of. Sorry.
I haven’t posted anything here in, ohhhh-hh, let’s say six months. It’s not that I don’t have an active, visible presence out there in Social Web — I’m on your Facebooks and your Twitters and Tumblrs, and on Twongle and Bloozy and Zipsqueak and I’m pretty sure I just made some of those up, but my own website, the one I try to direct people to, has been sitting here neglected with tumbleweeds running through it. No, I’m not being metaphorical — there are actual tumbleweeds stuck in the webserver. No, I didn’t know that could happen, either.
It’s well past time to put up or shut up — or more to the point, put up or shut down. I could turn this site into a static set of pages, a bio, a newsletter subscription form, and a showcase for my books, and give up all pretense that I’m ever going to update the damn thing again. I keep seeing articles online lately that pretty much say, “Remember five years ago, when we said writers have to have blogs? Turns out they don’t. Blogging won’t help you sell books. You should save your time for better things.” So, maybe it is time to stop?
Okay, but . . . .
This is writing. And I haven’t really been doing much of any other kind of writing, lately. Umm, like, this whole calendar year so far, really. I’ve got one novel-in-progress that’s currently dead in the water, and another novel that’s been churning around in my head, but I haven’t been able to make myself sit down and break ground on it.
I’m not “blocked,” exactly — I don’t really believe in writer’s block — but I can definitely say I’m out of the habit and want to get back into the habit of it again.
I can, at the very least, start here. Just putting down words, one after the other, until they make sense of some kind, to remind my body and my brain and my fingers that, oh, yeah, this is what I do.
I’ve been pretty good about managing to put out a podcast more or less every two weeks, and let me tell you, doing something creative and getting it out into the world on a regular basis feels great. I want to start doing the same here — I think I can reasonably commit to hammering out at least a few hundred words once a week.
I know what I want to be doing. I want to be turning out at least a thousand words of prose per day. That’s the goal a lot of authors suggest shooting for and I know I can do it, I know that would be a trivial amount of effort for me, if I just made myself find the time and do the work. I think this will help point me in that direction.
If you have comments, ideas, suggestions — and especially if you have any ideas about what you would like to see me blog about here — hit me up in the comment box below. I always love hearing from you.
A creepy, grisly little piece to start your week off right. As always, please share this link with your friends, and please leave me a review if you like it. Thanks!
In his heyday, audiences called Franz Joseph the “Angel of Fear.” Long-retired, half-forgotten, his most famous film is about to be remade, but the Angel of Fear has some ideas of his own ….
Free from September 29, 2014, through October 03, 2014! Download now »
This short story originally appeared in the collection “SLICES,” available now.
Here’s a strange little fairytale for you this week, one of my favorites. As always, please share this link with your friends, and please leave me a review if you like it. Thanks!
Andrew ran away to The Woods to be alone, to live however he wanted. Instead, he found the brother he’d never had, which was so much better than being alone — and so much more dangerous ….
Free from September 22, 2014, through September 26, 2014! Download now »
This short story originally appeared in the collection “SLICES,” available now.
I’ve had a lot of readers tell me this is one of their favorites. As always, please share this link with your friends, and please leave me a review if you like it. Thanks!
A SHADOW MARKET STORY — Former Senator Jonathan Eldridge is a connoisseur of the rarest meats, from the flesh of endangered animals to those thought to be mythical. He’d thought he’d seen every cut the Shadow Market has to offer — until now ….
Free from September 15, 2014, through September 19, 2014! Download now »
This short story originally appeared in the collection “SLICES,” available now.
Someone you know wants to die.
I don’t necessarily know you, or have any insight into your life. But I still feel pretty comfortable saying that. A 2008 NIMH survey found that 3.7% of adults had considered suicide. That means that if you know just twenty-seven people, odds are, one of them has thought about it. Might be thinking about it right now, as you’re reading this. They might be making a plan.
I’m not the only one thinking about this health crisis right now. The death of Robin Williams this past week has made all of the people whose lives he touched stop and think about it – and that’s nearly everyone. I have a hard time thinking of any entertainer, any public figure, who was more universally loved. And that wasn’t enough to save him.
Most people who don’t suffer from depression have been absolutely shocked by his death. How can someone who brought us such laughter and light get taken by the darkness? Most of us who have our own struggles with it already recognized a kindred spirit, recognized his mania as belonging to someone who was just holding on by his teeth.
And I think a lot of us have the same thought that I had: Oh, my God. I’m still not safe.
You want to think that maybe you made it. If you’ve had a major depressive episode and you survived it, you think, maybe that’s it, maybe that’s the last time, maybe it will never get that bad again. Then you hear that Robin Williams reached the age of 63 and then he still hit that wall, where he made it through everything else and still thought, that’s it, I can’t take even one more day.
It turns out that puts him in the bracket of the highest suicide risk:
I almost didn’t make it through last year, and now I find out I’m still two years away from the point where it can get even worse. That’s very sobering. I will never be safe. There will still always be a chance that the black dog will catch up to me and I will lose that last fight.
But looking around at the stunned reaction to Williams’ death, I feel determined not to let it, not to make the people I love feel this sharp and sudden sense of loss. And to try to keep it from catching up to anyone else.
I am insanely lucky, and incredibly grateful, that I have people in my life whose presence and love is helping me to want more life, not less. A year ago, I would console myself as I went to sleep that I had made it through one more day, and that death – which I saw as peace, as an end to heartache – was one day closer. Now, I have dreams of a future that I actually want, and I’m trying to work towards improving my health, hoping and trying to add days and months and maybe years to my life instead of wanting to reach the end of it.
Say something. Reach out. Find that one friend in twenty-seven, and let your voice be louder and clearer than all voices in their head that are trying to kill them. Let all your friends know – you are here, you love them, you will listen, no matter what’s wrong, no matter whether they think they’re worth your time and attention or not.
I will get back to talking about writing soon, I promise. But in the meantime, don’t forget to take care of each other.
Help isn’t coming, people. We’re all we’ve got. Shine as bright as you can, and rage against the dying of the goddamn light.