Mid-Week Update

Okay, so I figured out yesterday that trying to do a day-by-day status thing in the midst of my creativity drive was likely to stifle it, as part of the whole thing is to be creative, regardless of whether any specific plans survived contact with reality (or with fantasy, as the case may be).

Monday (and to an extent, during the weekend when I thought it was Monday) I had fruitful results in terms of producing actual prose that pleased me.

Yesterday, I mostly netted insights. I realized the extent to which doubt and second-guessing inhibits my writing.

For instance, when I try to write science fiction, I get caught up in spiraling questions of “But would it really work that way?” and all too often I find myself suspecting the answer is no. Practical faster-than-light travel and communication, antigravity, artificial gravity, time travel… all these things have such significant technical hurdles that I can’t help feeling faintly ridiculous when positing a solution and imagining what that solution might look like.

And this is a sin that I freely excuse in other writers. I realize that Isaac Asimov wasn’t predicting a revolution in antimatter-based computer processing that would lead to practical artificial inteligences; he was writing about what it would mean if we were able to create beings who were superior to ourselves in every way. Arthur C. Clarke wrote about the philosophical and theological impact of visiting other planets and star systems, not instruction manuals for how to get there.

(And just to head-off a stream of comments I know are coming, please save your “Actually they’re working on ________” or “But we already have ________”. If you actually read the links you want to send me, and then read the sources those are based on, and give it a little thought, you’ll see that while we’re refining our understanding of the universe all the time, mostly what we’re learning is that the future is never going to look like what we imagine it to be. And that’s okay. I have an essay that’s tangentially about this in this year’s WisCon Chronicles.)

When I write fantasy, I similarly find myself pulling at the threads of my own worldbuilding to a greater degree than is necessary or helpful. I know, I know… it’s good and useful and helpful to think about why a world is the way it is, why things in that world are the way they are, but the thing is, you never run out of whys. And even though I try to build what I feel is a more realistic level of untidiness into my story worlds than you typically get with fiction, the truth is that fiction has to make sense in ways that reality doesn’t and can’t. That’s part of why we turn to fiction.

And when I try to write in my favorite subgenre, superheroic fiction, I run smack into both problems. I’m too cognizant of the fact that the things people are doing are impossible, and the explanations for them are even more impossible, and the ends to which they’re putting these impossible powers are so petty and trivial. I can’t shut off the part of my brain that says, “If you start with our world, plus magic and people with physics-breaking talents and impossible technology, you don’t end up with anything that looks like our world.” And people might look at that and go, so run wild with it… write a realistic exploration of how superpowers and magic and aliens and technology would change our world.

But the thing is: that’s not what I want to write. And if it was, I’d be stuck with the same basic problems.

Basically, I overthink things in ways that lead to inhibitions. My writing really kicked off when I managed to kick the “Notebook(s) O’ Preparation” method that kept me trying to quantify every last iota of a story before I started writing it, but even without the notebooks, the ghost of the insecurity they represented still catches up with me.

Naming and facing a problem is a start, if not a solution.

Part of the solution, I think, is going to be to give myself the same permission that I reflexively and unthinkingly accord other writers. I believe this is a case of self-compassion trumping self-esteem. My self-esteem as a writer tells me that I should be better than these perceived failings. Ideally, I would stop seeing them as failings, but to get there, I need to be okay with them.

Another part of the solution is going to be creating structures within my workday where it’s okay to write first and think later, in the same way that one writes first and edits later.

And the third part is going to be chemical. I hesitate to say it, but my life has provided me with ample evidence that so much of confidence, doubt, insecurity, motivation, and anxiety come down to brain chemistry. I use a mix of over-the-counter supplements and caffeine to manage my serotonin and dopamine levels, but also, there are reasons that advice like “Write drunk, edit sober.” exists.

I don’t write well drunk, but a small amount of alcohol diluted in my afternoon beverages has historically done wonders for my ability to let go and let flow. I’ve actually referred to buying booze as getting more ink for my word processor. I think the problem is that I’ve set my routine up in a way that I never actually use it while writing. I’ll have to fix that.