So, last week my increasingly scattered and growing family met in Florida to celebrate a late Christmas. It was a lot of fun, but also more jam-packed with activity than I’d expected. I hadn’t planned on it being any kind of a work week, but I thought that with the kind of inspiration and momentum I’d been having, there would be the odd spare moments where creativity flowed anyway and I was able to post a few things.
Well, there were more odd moments than spare ones, and more of both than there were moments where I could reliably connect to the internet on my tablet, so here we are. It was a lot of fun, and obviously it’s always great to spend time with my family while I can, but it’s also great to be back sitting in front of an actual computer in my own room.
In keeping with the theme of a late winter and a late Christmas, I had a late epiphany this year, too. On my way home yesterday, while we were in the air, something crystallized for me. I don’t remember where the chain of thought started, but it involved a lot of things that have been swirling around in my head: the fact that writing Tales of MU isn’t nearly as rewarding for me as it used to be, that I don’t do enough of the writing that I want to do, how often it happens that I think I want to write something and I think I’m full of ideas for it but then I sit down and nothing comes, how often just when something is going great I just completely lose all ability to can, how many projects that I started off really strong on (Harper’s Folly, The One Called Wander, and a few I haven’t posted as widely) and then just hit a wall on when I should have been hitting my stride…
I’ve thought of most of this as writer’s block or fear of success or other things over the years, but I think it comes down to one thing: my projects always fall apart at the point where I’m writing to please other people rather than myself.
I know, I know… I already have as personal/professional mantras things like you can’t please everyone, write what you love and people who love it, too, will find it, et cetera. And that’s all very well and good until you realize that the people who love what you write have found it, and without realizing it you’ve started worrying about keeping them happy.
I mean, it’s not that I don’t want my readers to be happy. It’s just that as goals go, that’s a more nebulous and harder to reach one than making myself happy.
I’m one person, and while I don’t have perfect information about my tastes and emotions and expectations, I have a better inventory of them than I could ever have for anyone else, much less an entire audience of individual and discrete anyone elses. I can write a thing that I like and be confident in how much I like it. I can never be that confident in writing a thing and thinking my audience will like this.
And it’s not like I ever focus exclusively on the goal of pleasing other people, but sooner or later I’ll find myself in a situation where a thought occurs to me that goes something like, “Wow, I’d better make sure this is a good one,” whether it’s because I just got paid a chunk of money for it, or because I’m catching up on missed deadlines, or I’ve looked at reader comments and noticed that expectations are running high (or even just that people are really into the storyline), and as soon as that thought is in my head, then without even noticing I switch gears… and in particular I’m switching from the high-performance gear of writing something I’m excited about because I’m excited about it to trying to write to please an invisible and imaginary construct in my head.
Name a thing that I’ve been struggling with and I’ve probably said “I’m just not happy with the way it’s shaping up,” and that’s generally true, but it’s even more true that I haven’t been shaping it up to try to make myself happy. I’ve been trying to imagine what will make some generalized other happy and neither being personally happy with the results nor been able to convince myself that my idealized audience will be, either.
I’ve been going through this cycle with Tales of MU for a long time now where I’m just not feeling anything I’m writing, it becomes a noticeable problem, I stop and evaluate and figure out where to go with it that does excite me, and things start moving… and then I hit the same rut. And that’s because I’m only thinking about what I think and feel about the story in the moments of crisis where I’m trying to figure out how to get it moving again. When it is in motion, my attention inevitably (so far) shifts to “But what do the readers want?” and then it grinds to a halt.
This kind of introspection doesn’t tend to lead anywhere without an action plan attached to it. I don’t have such a plan at the moment. I have many times resolved in the past to focus more on the sorts of things I want to write and to do so apologetically, so I don’t want to just say that I’m going to do this thing. I think the reason I’ve failed to keep it going in the past is not understanding the process by which that morphs over time into trying to please the audience I’ve attracted by doing so, so I could just say “forewarned is forearmed” and press on ahead.
I am going to be focusing on writing to please myself and telling myself that forewarned is forearmed, re: the cycle described above. I’m just also recognizing that this isn’t enough, in and of itself. I think perhaps something like a “mindfulness exercise” where I remind myself of these things on a regular basis might work. I wonder if it would be weird to set reminders in a digital calendar to tell myself that I write best when I write for myself and that trying to write to please others goes nowhere would be weird. Having said that, I wonder if I care.
Stuff to think about.
It’s happenstance of circumstance that I didn’t post a MU chapter last Monday, but I’m kind of glad that it happened because it’s very much a chapter I wrote in an attempt to imagine an audience and then imagine what would please them. It’s also more due to circumstance than anything else (the timeframe I was working in when I set the return) that I wound up with Monday as a MU posting date. I’m going to switch it to Friday to give me a chance to get back into the higher gear this week and have a chapter I’m happy with.
I guess that is something of a plan.