Well, I warned you last time this wouldn’t look pretty. That there is 7 days of writing in a 31 day month. Still, better to light an inch than curse the dark.
One of my VP20 crew told me, “Output is not a measure of value.” Which other friends and loved ones have told me before, of course. I’ve always known this intellectually, but deprogramming is hard. I’ve taken a step in that direction (I hope) by realizing that maybe for right now the fact of having to re-invent my writing process wheel after the sorts of interruptions I’m facing (almost exclusively dayjob-related stuff) is just a feature and not a bug.
That doesn’t mean I stay happy with it, though. But maybe I don’t have to resent it so much until I can make changes. And changes are on the horizon. I’ve got a new short story I’m working on for a particular market; just 3 weeks until the deadline. Plenty of time–if I can stay on the stick, that is.
God, I’m far behind in every way. It’s the end of March and I’m just getting to posting February’s writing progress now. And it’s not pretty. But there’s only one thing for it in cases like this. Pick yourself up, stagger forward, and just focus on putting one foot under the other.
So, there’s my February. Not great. But the one thing I can say about it is that each set of blank days represents specific and identifiable dayjob issues on which I had to focus, and that just took up all my energy. That’s not a “poor me” complaint; just a fact. A reality that I have to own up to and face. And I need to make my peace with it, and find a way to light an inch, rather than curse the darkness. And in a way, the fact that I wrote for as many days as I did in February kinda shows I did just that.
In fact, compared to March, I’ve probably lit a whole yard. Wait until I post this month’s utter failure. No, that’s not hyperbole–wait ’til you see it. Still, I know it’s important that I post it anyway. Accountability, right?
In the meantime, I’ll have to go through that whole process of making peace with what got in my way this month, what did and didn’t get done, and move forward next month.
I tried posting these a few years back, but it lasted all of five minutes. I’m gonna try public accountability again though, if for no other reason than to live out the main takeaway from my Viable Paradise experience: Put up or shut up.
I’m at the cafe I usually sit in on Sundays, gearing up for today’s writing with coffee and baked goods. I decided to dive into my social media networks (and, tweak the new site here a little bit). I spent what I felt to have been a productive hour interacting a bit. As soon as I post this, I’m going to turn all of that off but then I realized something — sure, the next time I tune in again, I might’ve missed something. But because of how big the big things tend to stick on social media, it’ll be back around again like a TV rerun.
Which then made me think that just because social media is designed to be a stream and is meant to be consumed as such (since it’s on 24/7, nonstop because of its ubiquitous presence on all of our devices), it doesn’t mean I have to treat it that way. Just what is the actual difference between the social media stream, and any other media stream I had coming up in the 80s and 90s (TV, radio, recorded media, etc.) with respect to its demands on my attention and how I choose to respond to that demand?
I’m sure some of you tuned in today expecting a Spider Jerusalem-scale political rant. Some of you may even have been wincing in expectation of it. But I’m not Spider Jerusalem. He was my Id from twenty years ago. Going off here would be empty virtue-signalling from someone with no serious skin in this particular game. Whatever I say next, it’ll be through the work.
And so it immediately brings to mind how I resolve that conflict as I write. How do I make whatever I say come through the work? As always, I’ve had the answer all along…
What are you dealing with now in terms of plot points, themes, concerns now? The world and everything in it: Hunger, poverty, the anguish of the human race, the desperate sense of self destruction that we entertain all the time, the deep pervading gloom that comes with our inability to cope. Of course, you’re going to over-concern yourself with issues. It’s right that you should do so, and it’s expected… this year. Next year. But not three years from now.
Leave that soapbox behind. Carry with you, at all times, your sense of caring and your concern. But put it into the mouths of flesh and blood people. If not, write tracts.
Now, not to be critical, but I think it’s fair to say there’s a certain privilege in being allowed three years before transforming your soapbox feelings to good fiction writing. But that part of the prescription isn’t important, really. And I don’t want to dismiss tract and pamphlet writing, either; lots of folks do both. But the principle is sound.
As for me and my writing though, I have the motive, and now I have the means. And now I have some writing to get back to.
This leaves me drinking coffee past when I should on a Saturday night, trying to do a little more catching up since I took most of last night and most of today hibernating and flushing my brain. I finally have a little bit of energy that I don’t immediately have to burn on another commitment, like the dayjob. But it’s a precarious state. The bed, the couch, The Commonwealth are all calling to me. It’s okay, though. If rest is what I need and I can get it while picking away at my to-do lists and maybe a little bit of editing, I’m good.
But I’ve pieced together some thoughts about my VP experience and here they are, in order of life-changing impact:
CONNECTION. The first face I saw when I disembarked from the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard was that of a VP staffer/alum who I’d met a few years prior at a Readercon and who remembered me. Seeing a familiar face, I thought, was an ideal way to head into the workshop. I’d figured that everyone I was going to meet that week was there for a single purpose so I’d have an instant in, socially. These were all thoughts borne out of anxiety. It was an unnecessary worry. I don’t think there’s another environment where I could’ve played “Thing” with total strangers by incorporating elements of my favorite episode of The Twilight Zone. These people got me, or got me enough that opening up was strangely easy. I can only hope I was the same way for some of them.
CRAFT. By a certain instructor’s own admission, you don’t get anything at Viable Paradise that you couldn’t get elsewhere. Anyone who’s even half-serious about the writing game can find small-scale professional workshops and critique groups just about anywhere, face-to-face and online. But what you get at Viable Paradise is all of that stuff, a lot faster. You know how once in a great while, as you plod along looking for writing wisdom on your own, you randomly come across a piece of advice that surges your writing forward, sort of like finding a needle of gold in a haystack full of bullshit? At VP, (a) there is no bullshit and (b) I personally found no less than three of those needles. I think everyone in my class got something. Some got what they wanted; some got what they needed.
PERSONAL CHALLENGE. There are classes, colloquia, group and one-on-one critiques, and Mandatory Fun. While those things alone are enough to wear anyone out, you can do these bare essentials and not lose a lot of sleep or (more importantly to me) introvert points. I decided, Fuck all that.
It may have been unwise of me to get four hours of sleep the night I got there just to go on the first of Uncle Jim’s 6 am walks to watch the sunrise. I went to one of the many off-book lunchtime sessions with a bowl of spaghetti in my hands. I made myself walk to see a harvest moon, luminescent jellyfish, and Methodist Munchkin Land when my mind and body begged me to just take some time and curl up under a blanket. I stayed up too late, and maybe drank more than I do in an average month. In fact, I don’t think I got more than 4.5 hours of sleep per night except the night before I left the island. No regrets.
Now, I am not telling anyone to disregard what they need for their mental, emotional, and physical health — there was even an off-book lecture on writer self-care (which I didn’t make). I am saying, with the usual YMMV caveats, that Viable Paradise is an opportunity to stretch yourself a little bit beyond your comfort levels in relative safety, and not just with writing. Taking advantage of as much as I could outside the workshop proper was a life lesson in deciding, in a calculated manner, to push myself just a little bit further. Something at which I’ve become a little rusty.
THE HORROR THAT IS THURSDAY. If you’re looking into Viable Paradise, you’ve no doubt come across this phrase by now. The legends are true. It’s a crucible. And when you come out the other side, you’ll sincerely believe you’ve created an abomination against literature. You’ll want to hide it. You might even consider killing it to spare it the pain of living what’s surely to be a short, bleak existence in a cruel, uncaring world.
But those options will be taken out of your hands. And when you and your classmates are forced to reckon with what you (and they) have produced, you’ll feel an odd sense of pride. It won’t make any sense. You won’t care that it doesn’t.
A PERSONAL TRUTH. My classmates will have their own individual takeaways. I speculate that some of those takeaways will be very personal. Mine definitely are. It’s been two weeks now and I’m still unraveling them.
But one thing became abundantly clear to me: My entire Viable Paradise experience — my one-on-one critiques, my group critique, the Horror That Is Thursday, every lost hour of sleep, every lost introvert point — and everything I got out of it is perfectly and unironically summed up by the ending of the film CIRCLE OF IRON:
And once I recovered from this realization, I was left with one thing…
A CAREER REBOOTED. I won’t give my litany of excuses for my stalled writing career. And I’m not saying that in a “Boo-hoo, poor me” kind of way. But it’s accurate to say, I lost some things along my path before losing the path altogether.
But after the general lessons I’ve learned about writing, some personal lessons about my writing in particular, and all the people I met (every classmate, every instructor, every staff member, no matter how many or how few words I spoke with each of them), I feel my writing career is back on track. I’ve looked my core problems in the face as well as some core solutions. From this point forward it’s “Put up or shut up,” with literally nothing standing in my way.
It’s Halloween and while I feel dead, I’m not quite there (yet). The past two weeks of “vacation” from the dayjob consisted of the Viable Paradise Writing Workshop (VPXX represent!) followed almost immediately by the World Fantasy Convention, to say nothing about all the requisite travel. So given the holiday and my current state, how about I share an old ghost story…
Sitting in the kitchen, staring out the patio door into the darkness past the deck, I’m reminded of the story of my grandmother, one of many things my mother handed down to me:
At midnight, every night for months, my Lola dressed in her finest Spanish gown, went out on to her front porch, and screamed for her husband to come home. No one tried to stop her. See, her generation wasn’t unfamiliar with visits from the dead. A young woman calling out into the humid, Philippine night, was pitiable, but not beyond the bounds of reason. My grandmother’s family and townmates shrugged it off, until the night the screaming stopped after only a few moments. They rushed outside, afraid she’d hurt herself, or worse. Instead, they found her standing on the porch, smiling.
I mentioned this was coming, but now it’s here: THE CLEVELAND NEIGHBORHOOD GUIDEBOOK from Belt Publishing, which has a bit in it by me called “Agony in the Garden.” I got a kick from reading it out of my contributor’s copy. I have to say, these are really nice books!
NOTHING IN THE DARK. Writer George Clayton Johnson (Logan’s Run, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone) passed away the other day. I had the honor of meeting him at my first Rod Serling Conference in 2009, where he gave one of his legendary stream-of-consciousness rants about everything under the sun, much of which was repeated in this interview, which I watched being given.
WRITING. Got the acceptance email for PROJECT RUST last month! I’ll announce the details when the publisher does. Selling some writing always feels good; cracking a market you’ve targeted feels even better. And even as I cross this project off my list, another one comes on board, in addition to PROJECT FLOSS and PROJECT FIELD. Let’s call this… I dunno… PROJECT RICE.
I’ll be out in the 216 until after the holidays. Catch you on the flip!