Category Archives: Self Absorbed Whining

Where I moan and groan about how awful my life is.

Fear of Distraction

It’s midway through National Novel Writing Month, and things aren’t looking good for me this year. At this point, one should be at about 25,000 words… and I’m at, oh, 7,000 or so. This may be the year that I don’t win this thing. I’m sort of upset about that, because it breaks my winning streak of having won every year that I’ve participated (which is every year since 2001, though I skipped 2002 — or did you know that already?).

So I figure it’s time to dust off the blog and get to pondering things. Like why I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month for fourteen consecutive years, but don’t really have anything that I would consider ready to show off for publication. I’m pretty sure it’s not a fear of failure that’s holding me back, or the complementary fear of success. I can pursue a short story to (near) completion, but novels are another thing.

I’m pretty sure that what holds me back is a fear of distraction.

By which I mean that I have a hard time committing to a novel of mine if I fear that something else better might come along and hey, I can’t work on it because I’m already stuck working on this thing. And therefore I’m afraid of committing to a novel. And the irony is palpable, because if I had been able to commit to, say, The Outer Darkness (in 2004), I may have finished that novel completely, and gotten others completed as well. But no, I had to dither and go through angst and worry that if I focused on that one, then other brilliant ideas would go unwritten.

And what if I finish a novel, get it all the way done, and find it was a waste of time? What if I find, at that point, that I should have written something else?

I suspect these are questions that just about every writer faces. But when does that fear of distraction/wasted time get to the point that it’s pathological, and interferes with your ability to get anything done?

I don’t know.

Suggestions, anyone?

On Project Abandonment

This is the album I’m currently listening to:

Cosmosalbumcover

It’s The Music of Cosmos, the soundtrack for Carl Sagan’s masterful PBS series from the early 80s. It’s got music by Vangelis, J. S. Bach, Leopold Stokowski, and so on. It’s tremendously meditative, and back when I was in high school I listened to this album obsessively, over and over again, frequently while sitting in the dark or out walking at night.

Back then, inspired by Sagan, I was going to be a scientist of some sort. I wasn’t quite sure what sort, though, because Cosmos covered just about everything there was to cover, from the evolution of humanity to the distant reaches of the Universe, and the idea of focusing on just one field felt a little confining. I decided, when it was time to go to college, that I would stick with the field I was good at, which was biology.

All this time I was writing, as well. I wrote some science fiction, some fantasy, and some stories about a detective named Fizziwinker (no, I have no idea where that name came from, what it means, or whether or not Fizziwinker had any other name besides Fizziwinker). But I was a big fan of Cosmos, and of science in general, and I had this idea round about my senior year of high school that I would write a book about science. Not just about science, you see, but Science (with a capital S). It was going to be all about the history and philosophy of science, and more: an exploration not just of those topics, but also of what it means to be human, and our place in the Universe. It was going to be called The Neverending Symphony, which I thought at the time was a grand title (it is now the title of a series of video games, I believe).

In college, I put away this idea, figuring (a) I was too busy studying biology and then philosophy to get anything like this written, or (b) I was too busy playing Dungeons and Dragons to get anything like this written. But in the 90s, after I graduated college, I resurrected the idea. Briefly. I couldn’t be a scientist — as a guy who graduated from college with a Philosophy degree and a GPA just below 3.0, that road seemed closed to me. But I could still write about science, and I could still inject that book about science with all the philosophy I had just learned. I could still write my Neverending Symphony.

But I didn’t. In fact, I never really got anywhere with that project beyond putting together a mix tape of music that sort of put me in the same mood as the Cosmos soundtrack. I also had no idea how to go about writing such a grand project.

There’s still a part of me, though, that thinks that perhaps I could pull this off. After all, if linguist/funny writer Bill Bryson could write A Short History of Nearly Everything, then perhaps I can write The Neverending Symphony. It would take a LOT of research, basically a second liberal arts education, in the arts, humanities, and sciences, to make it happen.

How would I even start? I have no idea.

Should I even try?

Today's Writing Whine

Another day, another rejection. It looks like my goal of making my first professional sale this year isn’t going to happen.

I currently have three active submissions at three professional markets. I need to come up with two more. Hm.

Writing Angst

I’m a crappy writer.

Every story I’ve ever written is crap. Even the ones that have been published. The editors who bought my stories were blind on the days they read my stories, or they were simply charitable. That’s the only explanation I can come up with.

My novel, The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, is a pile of dung. It stinks. It smells. Surely my friend Terrie can smell its stench even in her home in Tokyo. Keri can smell it in Northern Ireland. It is truly foul. It’s going nowhere. The plot is limp, the characters lifeless. My use of language is abhorrent and completely uninspired.

Bleah. Barf. Yuck.

Who told me I could be a writer? Why on earth did I believe them?

I should do something more productive, with a higher chance of success. Like, maybe, collecting dust mites. I’m sure that there are plenty of different species of dust mites from all over the world. I could have the largest collection of dust mites that the world has ever seen, big enough to rival the dust mite collection at the Royal Natural History Museum in London, should they have one. I could label them with tiny little labels, and provide a microscope for the dozens of people from all over the world who would want to see them, for surely more people would be interested in viewing my dust mite collection than would ever be interested in reading the stories and novels that I inflict upon the world.

I could be a firefighter, I suppose, except my asthma would not be able to handle the smoke. Maybe a police officer, though I think I’m too old to qualify. I don’t know; I know that police departments aren’t allowed to have minimum height restrictions anymore; are they allowed to have age restrictions these days?

Truly, as a writer I sucketh.

* * *

Okay, that’s out of my system. Time to get back to writing.

Hangin'

For some reason, people often seem surprised when I tell them that I’m essentially a loner.  I mean it.  I guess I’m really good at interacting with people when I’m in social situations, but I don’t seek out such situations very often.  I love my friends dearly and I enjoy the time I have with them, but I often end up seeking out my own solitude rather than friends or family.  I don’t know why.  Sometimes I feel anxious even in front of the people I love the most, the people I know who love me the most; and sometimes my solitude is preferable to that anxiety, even though, as I said, I love my friends and family with all my heart.

I really want to emphasize this: I love my friends.  But I worry that they don’t know that because my own anxiety in front of the people I love makes me prefer my own company.  I rarely get anxious just hanging out by myself.  But why is the anxiety there?  I don’t know, but I’m working on it.  I can tell you it does annoy me, though.

So basically, it’s easy for me to go for weeks without seeing any of the friends I love, interacting only with co-workers or my wife (and sometimes if I’m working at home, only with my wife).  There were times, before I was married, when I could go for an entire weekend without interacting with anyone at all.  Strange times, those were.  Sometimes I felt like a ghost, sort of floating through the world, unable to interact at all.  I’d spend my days sitting in cafes, reading books or writing in my notebooks.

Which makes this past weekend even more great.  Saturday afternoon, Jennifer and I spent time with two close friends, Z- and E-, neither of whom I get to see as often as I’d like.  We talked, naturally, about gaming, though Z-, whose sense of humor is disturbingly similar to my own (pity her — we all do) did end up briefly on a tangent involving elephant ears. 

And this afternoon while I was at Borders in Davis working on Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster, my very good friend K- (we were best man at each other’s weddings) dropped by.  We talked for a long time, sometimes about gaming, sometimes about politics, sometimes about his adventures as an RA at the art college he attends, sometimes about other mutual friends we haven’t seen in forever.  Jennifer showed up, and we went off to Baker’s Square for dinner, then back to my house to watch Battlestar Galactica.  Afterwards, we chatted more; K- is a talented artist and brilliant storyteller, and we talked about comic books and about some of our different projects.  If you ever get a chance to hang out with K-, do so; he can tell you a story about buying socks at Wal*Mart which will have you giggling hysterically.

Gaming is something I used to do pretty regularly.  Heck, there was a five year stretch of time when I was gaming almost constantly, running my own campaigns at least twice a week and sometimes three times a week.  Pretty much always with the same people: good friends that I had grown to know and trust pretty well.  It was always stressful for me whenever a new player would enter the game: that old anxiety would rear up its ugly head, and I would be sure that the game, which had been entertaining my friends for so long, would suddenly suck big time.

I’ve pondered running a one-shot game at DunDraCon or DragonCon or some other big convention somewhere in the world, but sometimes the idea seems downright impossible.  Anxiety would eat me alive, and my own conviction of my incompetence at running such a game would just make things even worse.

On the other hand, when gaming was going well, when sessions were at their peak and the role-playing was intense, those are the times when I would feel the closest to my friends, which in a way is kind of sad.

Now that I’m pushing 40, gaming is far less a part of my life.  Most of the people I used to game with regularly have all moved away, have families, have jobs that keep them busy more than 40 hours a week; so as a result, I spend less time with my friends now than I used to.

I’ve talked before about the similarities between gaming and writing.  When you’re a GM, as I almost always was, you’re creating worlds for people to explore and interact with, much as you do as a writer.  But on the other hand, with writing, you’re not getting the immediate response you would get if you were gaming.  If I sit down to run a game session with five of my closest friends, the creative impulse is certainly fulfilled, as is the social impulse; but when I write a story or a novel, the creative impulse is fulfilled, and hundreds (ideally millions) of people will read the story; but there’s no social interaction.  So I’m forced to find other ways to interact with my friends.  Much as I love them, this can be hard for me to do.

I don’t have much of a point here.  It’s late, I’m still happy from having spent time with good friends over the weekend, and I suppose I ought to head off to bed.

Y’all have a good day now.

Oh, and attached is the song "Big Bad World, One" by Jonathan Coulton.  Pretty much expresses how I’ve too often felt.  Listen, enjoy, then give Jonathan Coulton your money.  He’s a talented and brilliant musician, and deserves it.

[audio:http://www.mossroot.com/worlds/audio/BigBadWorldOne.mp3]

And now on a whiny note

This has been a bad week.

No, scratch that.  It’s been a bad month.  Ever since we returned from Ireland, it seems that I’ve spent more time under the influence of my asthma than not.  The perpetual heat wave we’ve been experiencing in my neck of the woods (temps over 100 for almost two weeks continually now, with no lowering in sight) and the accompanying air quality has certainly not helped.  And I’ve heard tell that because of the extremely wet winter, the pollen counts in our area are skyrocketing, making my allergies act up, which causes my asthma to flare up.  My best bet has been to stay at home with the air conditioner on (because the A/C also cleans up the air a bit in addition to cooling it down), and right next to my nebulizer and all my other meds.  I’m able to work from home, fortunately, but I’m going a little stir crazy, not being able to go to the office.  My doctor has said that since all the tests for anything unusual have come back negative, there really isn’t anything to do but grin and bear it and take my medications regularly as long as my peak flows aren’t in the red.  There’s a new drug that we can try, but because it’s incredibly expensive ($15,000 per year), it’s not very likely that my insurance will cover it.

It’s all kind of bringing me down.

So this little ball of blues, encouraged by the persistent asthma, bubbled up from my psyche and started hunting around for something to focus on.  I’m already feeling sorry for myself because of the asthma (I keep reminding myself that at least I have lungs), so the meandering ball of blues had to find something else to glom onto.  Inevitably, it settled on my confidence as a writer and insinuated itself in there, a termite in the wooden structure of an imagination already overworked trying to make this analogy fit.

I feel like a wannabe.  Not as much a wannabe as someone who says that they want to be a writer but has never actually generated any words, but a wannabe nonetheless.  It does me no good to remind myself that I have five publication credits (three of them even for money).  I haven’t sold anything this year (of course, I still have six active submissions at markets I haven’t heard from yet), so the doubt is unavoidable.  And, honestly, it’s more about the quality of what I write; I look at the stories I already have published and go, “What the hell was that editor thinking?!!?”  The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster feels like nonsensical dreck, “Ghouls” feels like a cheap Dashiel Hammet ripoff with Lovecraft pastiche thrown in for pretentiousness’s sake, and none of the other ideas I have feel workable to me.

Of course, I did submit a story to a new market I heard about today anyway.  Objectively I know it’s a good story since it’s been picked up twice before, but the feelings haven’t diminished.  I guess I feel like a fraud and a wannabe more than a real writer.  A poseur.  A fake.  A phoney.  Holden Caufield would sneer at me.
I’m pressing on anyway.  When I’m done working today I’ll churn out a few words in both of my works in progress, because I know these feelings are transient and inaccurate, but still.  You know how it is, don’t you?

Interview: Neil Gaiman and Joss Wedon

My wife pointed me to this:

TIME.com: Interview: Neil Gaiman and Joss Wedon

Two of my favorite creative geniuses together on the same… er, website. I take some comfort from the fact that they’re both in their 40’s and I’m 37; on the other hand, they’ve both been working since their late teens.