He’s just better at saying these things than I am. Watch this whole thing, dammit.
I’ve been doing that hiding thing again. I need to take some time off from blogging and podcasting because Ghost Train to New Orleans is due this month. [Insert HERE all clever remarks about how I have to hold off on I Should Be Writing, because I should be writing. Go ahead. I’ll wait.] And then lots of stuff happens in SF and I feel I should write/podcast about it. But the SHOULD takes a lot of mental weight and I just get tired and say nothing. Damn.
Anyway. In short: I’m writing a book. I got nominated for the Campbell award. The Hugo Award nominees were also announced, and people got real mad. Nightshade Books is in trouble and people are freaking out about it. Roger Ebert died. Iain Banks is dying. Leviathan Chronicles Season 2 was released with a lot of my content. The Torment Kickstarter ended, setting a record. The Shambling Guide to NYC started getting mainstream reviews. Last week it sleeted in NC, and now highs are in the 80’s. But what’s the stupidest thing in the world is the fact that what got me blogging again after a hiatus was toilet paper.
Baby, you should know I am really quite a sweet guy
When I buy you bathroom tissue, I always get the 2-ply
~Weird Al Yankovic
In a frugal attempt to save money, and I also think I was in a hurry, I grabbed some cheap toilet paper at the store. I didn’t think much about it, or how thin it was when I put it on the roll. Then when it came time to use the tool for which I purchased it, I was astonished that I could see through it, and then realized I’d need more than I had originally thought. (Hence the money saved is wasted on having to use more to do the job.) Then there was the texture. THE TEXTURE ON MY TENDER BITS. Seriously, you don’t think about this shit until it HAPPENS TO YOU. 2-ply is important. It’s vital. Without it, civilization can crumble, man. CRUMBLE.
I bought some 2-ply right away, crying to the toilet paper gods that I will never go back. Now the evil 1-ply sits as an emergency, “we’re out of TP” backup. It watches me. It KNOWS.
I was at someone else’s house when I discovered that they, too, had 1-ply. I was immediately torn. You don’t complain about your friend’s TP. But I wondered about the etiquette of carrying around your own roll for times like this. I remembered sharing a beach house with a bunch of friends, and when we discussed who was bringing what to stock the house, this friend always wanted to be in charge of the paper products (napkins, paper towels, and TP) because they insisted on “their” brand of TP. I thought it was a bit strange, but the honor of supplying the tribe with recently slaughtered paper products is not something I particularly covet, so they took that duty.
But now I understand, and for a brief moment considered traveling with my own TP. The reality here is I can’t remember to pack my daughter a fucking coat, so I would likely fail at remembering the travel TP. And if I remembered the TP and still forgot her coat, then I might as well turn in my Mom badge and my gun. (Yeah, that joke isn’t funny anymore. It’s a metaphorical gun. That shoots guilt. And bees.) Also it seems downright rude or awkward to head to the bathroom carting my own roll.
Oh, it’s not you, it’s me. Polyps. You know.
And hell, it’s really not that important. Just so you know I’m not freaky about this. But it did get me thinking about characterization. This is a tiny bit of my life, the middle class white whine about 1-ply toilet paper. But in fiction, this is the kind of thing that can define characters. Insisting on, eg, 2-ply, or brand name products, or the newest gadget when the old one works fine, can say things about a character without you having to say “Kevin was an upper middle class American.” Instead, maybe, “The first time Kevin felt 2-ply TP, he knew there was no going back. He’d go so far as clean adult book stores for the financial right to wipe his ass in comfort.” Not to mention a character always carrying her own special TP to the bathroom with her can say a lot about her view of the world, and her desperate need to control.
When you’re thinking about “how would your character have reacted to Kennedy being shot?” or “The waiter spills water down your character’s back, how does she react?” you can think, “what kind of TP do they buy? Are they a coffee snob? Generic or brand name? Boy shorts or bikinis? Target, Wal-Mart, or Belk?”
I just wrote 800+ words on middle class whining and toilet paper. I think I should probably stop and get to writing or something…
Also, I do realize what I am saying about MYSELF that I thought this much about toilet paper, and I blame book stress.
It is one of my true beliefs that the majority of the problems in the world are caused by people thinking, “My experience is the same experience everyone has had. And if they don’t have my experience then they’re doing it wrong.”
A more poetic way to say this is to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you make assumptions.
I try to step out of my own experience to see others’. I also, as you know, Bob, like to encourage the new writer who is discouraged. I quit writing for 10 years because I was discouraged, and if I can stop someone else from losing ten years of their writing life then I will damn well try as hard as I can.[
Thusly, I was quite annoyed when I read this article about Philip Roth pooping on a young writer’s (Julian Tepper) dream by suggesting he quit after the sale of his first book. And it wasn’t because the guy was crap, or that he had no potential. Tepper’s first novel is about to come out! No, Roth just said, “It’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful.”
I often compare this job to ditch digging because dangit, you have to get your work done (plug for Magic Spreadsheet goes here) no matter whether the inspiration strikes you or not. But here’s the deal- writing is unlike ditch digging (besides the very obvious way) in that manual labor is hard, and thankless, and rarely what kids dream they will be. Kids dream of being writers. And they write, and yes, throw away, a lot of words in their efforts to be writers. It’s mentally and emotionally hard work. It’s agonizing sometimes. But sheesh, what career isn’t? I can’t think of any job that’s super easy, fun, rewarding, and not tough on you ever.
A writing career is a dream come true for a lot of people. And you’re going to have more people thanking you for how your book affected their lives than you will have people thanking you for making sure the roads don’t flood when it storms. Even if you write wacky superhero satire, you can make a difference in someone’s life.
Roth clearly is not a happy writer (obviously, since he just recently retired from it.) Or he wasn’t the day that Tepper gave him a copy of his book. But Roth never considered that perhaps Tepper’s career isn’t going to mirror his experience exactly. And I’m not even talking about the external fame and money, I’m talking about his internal view of his life and career. Tepper might view writing as something other than “torture.” (I hope Roth is never tortured. Cause my worst day writing isn’t quite torture… Amnesty International has never investigated my office.) Some people love writing. Some see it as work that needs to be done. Some people are self-loathing and trudge to the computer to open a vein and drink scotch and complain about writing later. But there must be some reason they do it…
Anyway, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a response to Roth here, which is how I heard about this, and wanted to give my two cents.
Chase that dream to be a writer. It’s awesome.
Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of The Wild Boys, the Ronin Trilogy and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Weird Tales, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online.
They are masters of stealth. You never know they’re there, but they’re right behind you every single time you sit down in front of a computer screen or a blank page.
They are masters of deception. Things are never really as they seem.
They are masters of disruption. They throw all your best efforts into complete disarray. Without breaking a sweat, they’ll set fire to your meticulously constructed castle and throw your ideas, your schedule, and your psyche into chaos.
They are masters of psychology and asymmetrical warfare. They know exactly what makes you tick, how to press your deepest, most sensitive buttons, and they know precisely how to strike at those weaknesses for greatest damage.
They are, without question, the writer’s arch nemesis. Even worse than the literati who thinks your beloved genre of fiction is utter crap, or the editor who ignores your queries for 18 months, or the agent who won’t give you the time of day, or the book reviewer who is so clueless that his capacity for perception and insight rivals that of a paramecium, there is one enemy who stands in the way of your dreams more staunchly, steadfastly, implacably than all others.
As a quick For-Instance, since I sat down to write this article about procrastination, I have gone off to surf Facebook, email, and Twitter no less than three times each. Mix that in with running a Kickstarter campaign right now, which is its own special mix of terror and elation, and I’m getting mighty little accomplished.
Because it’s so easy! And I want to hear about stuff! And I’m organizing for cons this year! It’s work! And I have to tweet!
And then I get sucked into cat photos and clever memes, or fly into a spasmodic, spittle-flecked rage about some asinine political story and have to spend the next several hours blasting Enya into my skull, kicking the heavy bag, and breathing incense in a sensory deprivation chamber with half a bottle of Lagavulin 16 to feel like a human being again.
But I digress.
Oh, and there’s laundry.
And the kids!
And oh! Dishes!
And that magazine I haven’t read.
And the cat needs a perm.
You don’t need me to give it all a name. You know it already. You know it just like you know the ninjas in the dark, the ones that your mind creates to fill the emptiness of shadows. Ninjas resist names; they are shadow itself.
And they come from the places that are already inside our defenses. From our own internal resistance. I’ll go out on a limb and say that all writers possess an innate fear of success. We yearn for validation, for publication, for having created some work of art that sets readers on fire with emotion and inspiration. We just don’t want to work on it right now.
Because if we don’t work on it right now, it will never be finished.
If it’s never finished, then we don’t have to worry about whether it’s any good.
No one will ever be able to tell us, “Wow, this is awful. Are you a native English speaker? Did you steal this plot from Twilight?”
No editor or agent will ever be able to send us an empty, soulless rejection.
If we never finish this project, we don’t have to worry about how it will be received, or how hard it is to get it published, or whether our mothers will lose sleep over what they did to make us so sick and twisted.
For these reasons and others, we get in our own way when it comes to bringing to screaming life these critters within us we call stories and books. No one knows you better than your subconscious mind; therefore, the ninjas lurking in those depth are preternaturally adept at bringing your work to a crashing halt.
But here’s the most important thing to remember. The stronger your internal resistance, the more important this project is for your career or creative well-being. The greater the multitude of ninjas that emerge from the shadows to stand in your way, lead you astray, the more vital it is for you to fight your way through them, wrap your fingers around the pen or keyboard, and get busy. If you have reached the point where you just cannot make yourself work on that novel again, ask yourself, “Could this be the most important thing I have ever done?”
And listen to the little voice for the answer, not the big one.
If the answer is “Yes, this is important!” how do put the ninjas to rout?
First, you must identify where the time is going. I just spent thirty minutes on e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter without even trying. Just now, and you didn’t even see it go.
Hmm, perhaps a theme is emerging…
If the internet is your biggest procrastination tool, and you recognize it as such, do you have the internal fortitude to disconnect? How about just for a little while? And this includes smart phones. If have even 30 or 45 minutes to write, then make that time sacrosanct. Turn off the phone, and disconnect your Wi-Fi. If even that is not enough, there are tons of simple programs out there that will disconnect your computer from the internet for a set period of time. Or put the computer away, loosen up your wrist and try writing in a notebook. Besides, you look more like a writer carrying around a tattered leather journal. It’s cool, trust me.
Some fascinating new research from Harvard professor Dr. Shelly Gardner also shows that the more pressure you are under to produce, the more your brain’s creativity centers kick in. People are often just as productive when they have only fifteen minutes to write (or five!) as those who have two hours to stare at a screen. So find little blocks of time to bang out a couple of paragraphs.
Another key ingredient to a little bit of self-care. Don’t get too down on yourself for getting your ass kicked by the ninjas again. Just get up, dust yourself off, and say, “Yeah, you guys got me this time, but hey, you’re trained for it, and you’ve had my whole lifetime to practice. I’m just a writer. And now I’m going to do that. Next time, you might not get me.”
Thank you for coming along, dear reader. All writers, even the pros, and creative people in general, struggle with these things, so you’re not alone. You’ll never kill all your personal ninjas, but you can learn to circumvent them. That’s what successful writers have to learn to do.
I’m running a Kickstarter campaign until February 4, 2013, to fund the publication of the second novel of my RoninTrilogy. There are plenty of ninjas over there, along with samurai, demons, Mongols, magic swords, and talking animals. If this sounds like your kind of thing, or even if you enjoy supporting independent artists, please give it a look by clicking here.
I interviewed Tony Pisculli about the “Magic Spreadsheet” the only thing in the entire history of history that has gotten me to write every day since Dec. 3 (nearly 24000 words). I’ve written on sick days, travel days, residency days, and holidays. It may not work for everyone but it’s sure as hell worked for me. So here’s a short interview of Tony and I walking and talking about the magic spreadsheet (hence the change in background noise) and below is the link to the magic spreadsheet. Add your name at the bottom (and if you feel like it, put ISBW next to your name so I can follow who’s tracking) and start tracking! And it goes without saying, but don’t mess with anyone else’s numbers.
Some people like the fact that I show my insecurities on I Should be Writing. It tells them that they are not alone in their insecurities, that they are something to overcome, that you can reach publication while still feeling like someone’s going to knock on your door and demand the advance back because they just found out that YOU ARE A FRAUD.
Others don’t like it because they think I shouldn’t feel that way once I have reached the level in my career that I have. Get over it. I should quit whining; it’s obvious I’m doing OK, I have the writing creds to prove it. And their emails do so much to regulate my emotions. Thanks guys, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
But in reading [REDACTED] online today I discovered a new negative feeling that comes with the low level of pro writing that I have achieved. It actually comes from reaching a small sense of self worth. Where the feeling USED to be, “Wow, I’d love someday to be invited to contribute to a book like that,” now it’s, “Hey, wait, I’m totally qualified to contribute to that. Why didn’t they invite me? Wait. Am I done? Am I over? Did I never arrive? Did they sample my work and decide, ‘hm, no, not again.’ Or worse, did they read something I wrote online or hear me on a podcast and think, ‘yeah, we’re not inviting that asshole to a project.’ WHY WASN’T I INVITED TO THE PARTY? I WORE MY PRETTY DRESS AND EVERYTHING!” *runs off to eat frosting*
I often liken this career thing to a domed party in the desert. You think that you’re in the desert and all the pro writers are inside the party, and you need but ONE break to open the door and be invited in where there are water, showers, and waiters carrying trays of champagne once you dry off. But once you get in, you realize the party is only along the outer perimeter, and there is ANOTHER party right inside. And inside there? More parties. The parties of the multi-book deal, or the six-figure deal, or the movie option, or the actual movie being made, or the award winners. I had accepted this Dante-esque view of a writing career, but I had never expected that some people who I think are at the same party I am will get invited to other parties while we’re mingling. I mean, we’re all with the cocktails and the humorous WorldCon stories, and then a waiter in tails comes by with a little engraved notecard to hand to my companion, and he reads it and then excuses himself and goes on to the next party. Why didn’t I get one? Did I not wear the right pretty dress?
This is, of course, all metaphorical insecure BS. First, you don’t measure your career with someone else’s career as a yardstick. Second, not everyone can be invited to a party, just the law of averages, or some other mathematical rule, says that they can’t invite every talented person to every project. Third, maybe you’re not the right person – or even good enough – for that project, and that’s OK. Really. As long as you persist, your chances will improve, as will your talent.
Besides, you don’t stay hungry and scrappy by having every opportunity handed to you. The occasional disappointment/letdown/failure will make you fight all the harder next time.
And by you I mean me, obviously.
CASE STUDY 1–So I had two kids at the back of the bus. A demon was in the seat across the aisle and it wanted those kids. The kids had no special demon fighting powers. I was at a loss as to how they could get away from the demon without having it simply follow them.
“She had no idea what to do,” I wrote.
CASE STUDY 2– Two characters were on a late night train, talking, info-dump style. (Yeah, it has to happen sometimes. Sue me.) I was reaching the end of my wordcount, and it was late, and I was tired.
“She yawned and said, ‘Let’s talk about this over coffee in the morning.'”
I just wrote myself into my novel. Twice.
I’m not doing a Mary Sue in that my characters are me, only BETTER. Instead, they’re me, inept, confused, and tired. Ruby didn’t know what to do because *I* didn’t know what to do. Zoe was tired and wanted to continue the discussion tomorrow because that’s how *I* feel right now.
I will be fixing these things on rewrite. Do you do this? Be aware of your emotions making your characters confused, angry, tired, horny, sad, or whatever you’re feeling at the time. Sometimes it’s good to tap into those emotions. Other times, at least for me, it’s just damn lazy.
Look over there! The thing! On the sidebar!
Yeah. I’m trying NaNoWriMo. Again. This time I’m breaking the rules and going for a books on an existing project. My book, tentatively titled Ghost Train to New Orleans (sequel to The Shambling Guide to New York City), is 8k in, and I am using NaNoWriMo in hopes to get to 60k. My wordcount there at the right is the honest NaNo count, starting with the words I wrote today. I’m cheating in that the project is started, but I am NOT considering I have an 8k word start. I donated to NaNoWriMo, got my donor halo, and I’m off and running.
Who’s with me?