So, something happened this morning that hasn’t happened in a while.
I woke up thinking about Tales of MU, and not in an “Oh, God, what am I going to do?” sense (and that has happened), but in the sense of thinking about the characters and their lives and what they think and feel and would be doing… so I got up and came to my office and picked up the notebook I had designated the MU-writing one (still empty, as of that moment) and began to write. I filled a page and a bit more pretty quickly with the opening that came to me, and I might do some more today after I finish this post, but it felt good to get it out.
One of the recurring themes in MU is that desire is complicated… that as human beings can want things on different levels, it’s possible to both want something and not want something, and only the mind that’s doing the wanting/not wanting can sort out what to do about that.
My feelings about MU have been like that lately. I’ve wanted to continue the story, wanted to keep it going… but at the same time, I’ve wanted to throw my hands up in the air and be done with it. I talked about how fear of communication had paralyzed me recently. It made it very hard to write TOMU in particular, because while all writing, even fiction, is communication on some level…
This is going to get awkward, but… every author has a few readers who have boundary issues. Writing one’s thoughts out, even one’s thoughts about make-believe people, is a bit of an intimate act. Reading those thoughts is also a bit of an intimate act. But it’s not an intimate act in the way that, say, letting someone into one’s living room is (ooh la la). The writing itself is a sort of filter or interface between the participants. When you read someone’s writing, you’re not seeing the real them. You’re not getting to know them. No matter how sure you are, it’s not true.
There was one day, years ago now, where I was trying to drum up some excitement within myself and the readership, and I did a sort of proto-listicle post on my LJ that had some behind-the-scenes tidbits of Tales of MU. And I had fun writing it, and I hoped people would have fun reading it, and so to keep the fun going I ended by saying that if it was well-received, I’d do it again, with “Six Surprisingly Semi-Autobiographical Elements of Tales of MU”.
Now, I was thinking of things like Mackenzie’s archenemy relationship with stairs, but one well-meaning—and I want to stress that, I’m sure this person meant well—reader commented to beg me not to write this, to “preserve the mystery”, because in their mind, it was obvious to “most readers” that a traumatic event that happened to one character was my own story in fictional disguise, but it would heartbreaking to know it for certain.
Folks, can you imagine what it’s like to be in the middle of a lighthearted, fun little exercise of giving readers a peek behind the curtain and someone comes up to you (virtually, at least) with that?
I’m using that as a representative example of a thing that happens too frequently, and while I wish I could say that I was used to it, it still has a tendency to knock the wind out of my sails. I’ll introduce something to the story and it’ll be going great and then… it happens.
Do you know that every time I write a conflict between Mackenzie and Ian in the story, or introduce a new female love interest for her, my boyfriend Jack gets flooded with messages of sympathy? Because obviously I’m Mackenzie and he’s Ian, and obviously if there’s someone new in Mackenzie’s life that can only mean that I’ve kicked him to the curb, never mind a) fiction and b) polyamory…
I’d love to say this kind of thing doesn’t affect me, but it does. Not at first, not in small doses, but no matter how good a duck’s back is it at whisking away the raindrops, it doesn’t do much against a tidal wave. It’s something that every author has to deal with on some level, but when you’re writing the same story day in, day out in such an immediate medium as the internet, there’s not really a break, you know?
I used to write on my Livejournal that writing is an arrogant act, that it takes not just confidence but arrogance to look at a blank sheet of paper and think, “I can do better than that.” Writing is a balancing act, and I don’t mean that in the sense that you have to juggle a lot of responsibilities (I’d call it a juggling act if I meant that), I mean it in the sense that the only way you can get through it is to keep moving, keep looking straight ahead, just keep going straight on until you’re safely on the other side, or you’ll start to wobble and then you’ll fall and it’ll be over.
But when readers are contacting me (and worse, people in my life) with their “observations” about what my writing means about my real life, I wind up doing the worst thing a high-wire artist can do, which is looking down. I second-guess myself. I stop being able to write a plot line without thinking about the implications, not the consequences for the story but whether it’s going to make my life and Jack’s life and our life together difficult, and who else it might reflect on, and what are people going to take away from this about me…
I don’t want to change the story in response to such silly externalities, but… I’m only human. Sometimes I pull away from a story because of it and then I have nowhere else to go with it. Sometimes I try to power through with what I had planned but the magic is gone, it’s no longer this exciting thing that’s coming together naturally but this hateful, horrid slog.
You know what happened to “updates resume January 4th”?
I had this plan where I was going to spend some time writing to get ahead before I updated, right? If you read my blog, you know the plan. The plan was like this: I would alternate time “on” and time “off”, spending weeks at a time writing stories until I was at least four weeks’ ahead, and then take that time “off” to work on other things.
And the plan was happening less orderly than I’d wanted/expected, but it was happening. I was getting ahead. I was stringing together a plot line that I could sustain, that would carry me through. It took me until the end of my planned “on” session to actually get anywhere, but once I did, once the logjam cleared up and I had traction and I was moving, I was ready to keep moving…
And then I posted the first new chapter in months, the only chapter so far in 2016, and I got a reader query, “Does this mean no more Ian?”
Because the first new chapter had Nicki in it, I guess?
And to be fair, the query didn’t mention any intersection of real life and fantasy, and the reader might not have meant for there to be any. But it deflated me. It was like a punch in the gut. I let the stories that were growing in my head wither on the vine, and vacillated between coming up with a story that would be untouchable, bulletproof, and feeling like the whole thing was not worth bothering with anymore.
Now, things have been difficult for me in a lot of different ways lately, and this is not the only issue that’s been affecting my work. But it’s been compounding all the other ones. Barring that one post on Tumblr I made about Superman singing to Batman, Tales of MU is the greatest success of my career as a writer. Financially, it’s the top. Finding myself unable to continue it makes me feel like a fraud and a failure overall, which makes it hard to get up the gumption to accomplish anything, which just contributes to the cycle of perceived failure.
And can you imagine what it’s like to try to communicate within a relationship when you’ve got this weight of expectation from strangers who assume your imaginary story about ~19-year-olds finding ~*love*~ in college is reflective of your adult relationships as late 20 and 30 somethings? It makes everything that much harder, and then when we do have an issue that needs to be worked out, it just makes writing anything having to do with Mackenzie or Ian radioactive, because now the second-guessing is getting into third-guessing and fourth-guessing… what if it does creep in? What if Jack starts to believe it?
Please take this blog post as one part just me identifying and articulating a problem I have not yet articulated, just more of me thinking out loud very quietly, as I do here.
And please take it as one part further explanation for why things have been so very bad on the updates front lately.
But please, please, please, also take it as a plea: knock this shit out. Yes, I broke the swear embargo. Whatever theories you all want to have in your own private heads and private spaces, knock yourselves out. But when it comes to me, my space, my people, my life? Knock the shit out. Quit leaving your theorizing in my inboxes, in those of my friends and lovers, in the comment section of my website. I don’t read the comments on Tales of MU, but the reality of the modern internet is that someone has to moderate them or else let them be abandoned to the porn and pill bots, which means Jack sees them.
And this isn’t just about the personal stuff. Do you folks know what my inbox looks like when I start a new project? “So I guess it looks like you’re sick of Tales of MU.” Then I update MU. “So I guess you’re not sticking with [new thing] after all.”
Every time I start updating at a regular-ish time, five minutes after that time I get the first trickle of “I guess there’s no story this week” and “So we’re back to no updates, huh?”, and guess what that does to my drive to keep up a consistent schedule? Consistency is never rewarded except with demands for more consistency.
This kind of thing, it has got to stop. I have got to stop being afraid of it, but listen, as long as we’re being completely honest with each other (and we are being honest, aren’t we?), when I’m afraid of a thing, only some of that fear is fear of what will happen. Some of it… often a lot of it… is fear of what I’ll do. I used to be a very angry person. I used to get worked up utterly out of proportion over every little thing. I used to be not very nice. And part of how I changed that—to the extent that I have, everything is a work in progress—is by learning to simply not respond to things.
So if I stop being afraid of what we might term readers’ “invasive reactions”, I’m likely to get angry about them instead.
And that’s not going to be fun for anyone.
I’m going to tie this off by laying out the law. I know readers have asked (mostly through Jack) for me to be more communicative through the Tales of MU website, to post more updates about what I’m doing there and so on.
We tried that, it didn’t work.
I don’t want to say “you blew it,” because I’m not saying that I’ve been perfect… this post is as much a catalogue of my own flaws as anyone else’s. From here on out, Tales of MU is where I post Tales of MU stories, this blog is where I talk about what’s going on. I’m not going to cross those streams again. There is a wall a thousand feet tall made out of force fields and fire and patrolled by little yappy dragons that spit out giant fire-breathing ones when they see intruders. I will continue to communicate more (more frequently, more candidly) here, but I’m not doing it over there. That space is going to be reserved for fiction until I’m sure that each and every person who’s reading it knows the difference.
So, all of this is to say: I’m writing Tales of MU again.
In terms of practical announcements, that’s it.
I set no deadline.
I announce no schedule.
I make no promise.
I make no pledge.
Every time I hit a stumbling block and start to un-stumble myself, it seems like there’s someone there to ask me when I’m going to “get serious” about things. This is not the most invasive thing I get asked, though it’s just as fallacious as trying to figure out what’s going on in an author’s love life by the ups and downs and ins and outs of her fictional characters. You can’t tell how serious someone is about something by how well they’re doing at a thing.
Trust me when I say that I’m serious now. Trust me or don’t when I say I’ve been serious about it the whole time I’ve been not writing and not updating it, too. Seriousness only gets you so far. I’m more serious now, if only because I’ve shoveled out a lot of baggage that was clogging the seriousness pipeline .
Right now, I’m so serious that I’m resolving to just write the damn story I want to write and not care what anyone thinks about it, or if anyone thinks anything about it. That’s the way it was in the beginning. I used to tell people who had little suggestions for making it more palatable to a mass audience that I’m writing the story I want to write, and if you want to read that story, you can. That was the deal in the beginning. That’s the deal now.
And if you want to read that story, then you only need to do three things:
- Get out of my way while I write it.
- Stay out of my way while you read it.
(Optional step 3: Give me your money, so I can keep doing it.)