Story of the Week #10: “Death Poodles of Doom”

Yesterday I sent out the tenth Story of the Week, “Death Poodles of Doom”, to the subscribers of the Story of the Week mailing list. Remember, you can sign up for that mailing list here.

Writing vs. Kobolds

Sneak koboldWell, the kobolds are at it again. This whole week has been a mix of anxiety and depression and bouts of low self-esteem and, well, whatever else you can think of. The kobold attacks have focused on my writing, instead of my job and my general sense of personhood. I suppose that’s progress… of some sort… I don’t know. Whatever.

They’re sneaky, these kobolds. I can be doing whatever I’m doing and suddenly get stabbed in the back by some sort of kobold rogue. The bastards. This past week, I’ve been trying to focus on work, but the kobolds attacked my writing self esteem anyway. Again I say, those little bastards.

I Tweeted these attacks as they came. I figured that being public about my depression and anxiety couldn’t hurt. There are plenty of people who are open about these conditions, and they don’t seem to have any ill effects. So that’s what I did. Here are a couple of the Tweets that I made:

and…

and…

and so on. Various people on Twitter and Facebook pointed out that there were cognitive distortions behind these attacks, and that helped. Emotional reasoning, mind reading, fortune telling, and so on. It helped me come up with some logical responses, and while that helped a little, depression lies and blocks your ability to listen to logic.

It helps a little to go over my writing history. So here goes:

I wrote my first “book” when I was pretty young. I don’t remember my exact age, though my mom probably does. It was called “Tornado in the Sky” and it was about… well, a tornado in the sky. I’m not entirely sure what that means. But I wrote it, illustrated it, and bound it myself. I kept writing through middle school, proud of my stories, and through high school. In fact, my 12th grade English teacher actually told me that I was the finest writer he’d ever had to honor to teach, which made me feel great, because I had (and still have) a great deal of respect for him. I wrote more in my freshman year of college, even submitted my science fiction and fantasy stories to some of the major markets (Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction). Never got a sale, though I got some very nice personal rejections from some of them.

And then in my second year of college — this would have been 1987 or so — I just… stopped. I fell in with a crowd that played a lot of role-playing games, and for years I focused on Dungeons and Dragons, and for something like fifteen years I focused all of my creative energies on role-playing games of various sorts. Almost always as a Game Master, not as a player; I loved worldbuilding and running games in the worlds that I created, and, if I do say so myself, I was pretty good at it. At least two people have said publicly (by which I mean Facebook) that I was the best DM ever.

In 1996 I wound up running a Live Action Role-Playing game (see here for a sense of the plotlines I was coming up with and running for the players). That, of course, took up all my creative energy, and I didn’t write stories during that time. I ran that game for five years, bringing it to an end in 2001.

During all the time that I ran and played role-playing games of various sorts, I did not write. That’s fourteen years. There are plenty of writers who say that role-playing games helped them become better writers, but I think I learned a lot of bad habits instead. Sure, I became pretty good at world-building, but my style of DM-ing was pretty reactive. In other words, most of what I did, I did in response to what the players did; as a result, the characters I came up with in my stories were pretty passive, reacting TO situations, rather than initiating actions of their own. In fiction writing, this is a bad thing.

So. Fourteen years is quite awhile, and, as I mentioned, during that time I learned some bad habits, and lost some good ones.

It was in 2002 that I decided that I was going to take writing seriously again, by which I mean I would write regularly, try to make some sales, and so on. I have made a few sales, none of them professional or qualifying me for SFWA or HWA membership, but at this point it’s been two years since my last sale. Which is why I feel like I’m not moving forward. And why I doubt my abilities as a writer. And at the age of 45, I feel like I not only haven’t made any pro sales, I, therefore, never will. That’s what I mean by being too old. And what I mean by not moving forward.

I recognize that these are ridiculous thoughts. I would never tell anyone else my age nor older that they’re too old to start a writing career, because it’s simply not true. Yet I have no problem telling it to myself. But when faced against depression and anxiety, logic rarely wins. Depression lies, as others have pointed out before, and sometimes it’s so loud you just can’t drown it out.

Another kobold attack, which I think makes me look like sort of a jerk, is the second one; I have friends who have made professional sales, who have won awards, and so on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy for these friends of mine, and I begrudge them nothing. But… I feel like I’m never going to get there myself. Again, that’s a statement that’s full of cognitive distortions and distorted thinking, but it’s a hard one to get past.

So… I’m not sure where to go from here. Just keep writing, I suppose. Just keep writing. And submitting. And getting feedback from my writers’ groups. And so on. I’ve got my Story of the Week project going, and I’m still rewriting Code Monkey!. And I’ve started plotting my novel for this year’s National Novel Writing Month. And I have plans for another novel after Code Monkey!. But none of these feel like they’re professional level projects or goals. I don’t even know how to set professional goals. Feedback would be helpful here.

I think that’s it. Depression should lose to logic, but sometimes depression’s lies are too loud and too convincing.

Thoughts, anyone?

One year on

I don’t deal with death very well.

My friend Leonard Pung died of pulmonary complications brought on by leukemia a year ago today. And every now and then I look through the window of the cafe where we hold our writers’ group meetings, and half expect to see him walking in, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a wry grin on his face, as if he had just come up with a delicious pun that he couldn’t wait to share with us.

I’m putting this video here. It’s Leonard reading from his short story, “Crossroads”. It’s a good story. Enjoy.