When the going gets tough, the not-so-tough have to keep going too

I’m not sure I would ever really describe myself as tough. Toughness to me brings to mind the hardworking and determined. When I think of a tough writer, I think of someone who can take criticism or laugh off a bad review. I think of someone who can take a setback as a challenge, with a gleam of “I’ll show you” in their eye. I think of someone who can go to bed at midnight after a night of writing and get up at four to start again. Toughness, for me, implies a resilience that feels superhuman. I don’t have that.

Nor would I call myself particularly talented. But I decided long ago that talent is something we create, rather than something we’re born with. A talented writer is merely one who has worked really hard. Who is tough, so to speak.

I think writing is a business that requires toughness. Fight for what you want. Make the sacrifices. Outwork everyone. Do better. Be better. That’s how you find success. The writers I look up are the ones who tend to embody these traits. All of them talk about how difficult this business so. Finish your shit. Do the work.

February has been a tough month. My mental state has been so-so. Work is challenging. Life at home with my 4-month old is good, but also challenging. Writing is challenging because when is it not? And my work has suffered.

If I was tough, my thinking goes, I wouldn’t struggle with this. I’d do my work, even when I had a bad day at the office. I’d do the work, even when KRH won’t go to sleep and stay up late to cry. I’d do the work despite whatever awful crap is going on in the world.

That doesn’t mean I’m not doing any work. But I’m not doing as much as I want (as if that were even possible). But often, I find myself feeling like I should be tougher in the face of these things. Isn’t that how I’ll find success? By outworking other writers? By doing the work harder, longer, better, than they do? How else can I compete?

I don’t have a good answer to this. And I feel like, more than ever, I should be tougher than I am. What I have, I suppose, is persistence. I’ve had a lot of friends who have given up on writing. I know others who have lives, children and families and jobs, that don’t allow them time for writing. And they make the right choices for themselves, and those choices often don’t involve pursuing writing. But I refuse to give up on my goal. No matter how discouraged I may feel, or how difficult my life may feel, or how far away from that goal I am, I won’t give up. Is that enough? I don’t think so. But it’s what I have, so I’m working with it and it will have to do.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
14% Complete
12,357 of 90,000 words

Advice

February has been a challenging month. We are sleep training KRH, (basically, teaching him to go back to sleep on his own), which is both exhausting in that the method we’re using (The Sleepeasy Solution) requires KRH to do some crying, and for us to be up frequently to reassure him that we haven’t abandoned him. It’s been going fairly well and we’ve achieved a regular bed time and naps, but it was pretty tough on both my wife and myself. On top of that, the last few weeks have been rough at my work and challenging as my wife and I still try and rebuild our house.

So, when Kameron Hurley, one of my favourite dispensers of writing advice, stopped into Reddit for an AMA I asked her the following.

“How do I become tough? How do I get to the point where my writing attitude is “Do my fucking work and fuck the rest?” How to I cultivate that resilience so that even when things aren’t good, when I sit down at my desk to write, I write?”

Here was her answer.

“Here’s the thing. We’re all going to die one day. Could be an hour from now or a decade from now. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow. When I need motivation, I ask myself what it is that I’d like to have been doing in the days or moments before I died, and honestly, if I could die knowing I gave everything I could to achieving my goals, then great. I’d die happy. You have kids, which does make it harder; you want to have a balance, because on your death bed, you don’t want regrets about that either. Most writers with dayjobs and kids get up really, really early. I get up at 5:30 in the morning, no later than 6am if I’m feeling sullen. I get a lot of admin stuff and blog posts and such done first thing. It may turn out that you need to get up at 5am, or 4:30 am. And when I am like, “Arg, this sucks!” I imagine being on my death bed, not having done all I could to achieve what I wanted, and I think, wow, that would be way worse than getting up at 5am, and I get up.”

In some ways, this advice was about the physical how, rather than the mental how, but at the same time I took it to heart. I hadn’t been getting enough done in the evenings. So I’m moving my bed time earlier, and also moving my wake-up time earlier. So far, it’s working, perhaps because it coincides with us getting KRH to bed far earlier. I don’t know if my bed time is sustainable, but whatever I have to do to carve out time to write without taking time from my family, I’ll do it. But it’s also advice about the motivation behind the writing. I think I needed that as well.

In the mean time, I’ve started rewriting Cloudbreakers.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
7% Complete
6,354 of 90,000 words

January’s fuel

Last week, I briefly mentioned the idea of refuelling my creative engine. As a writer, I can’t exist in a vacuum. I am constantly influenced by the media I’m taking in. I need this. I need to keep inspiring myself with the work of others, and seeing themes and exploration of ideas. When I read a great book or see an amazing movie, it tends to stay stuck in my brain for days. That’s how I know it was excellent. When I’m not doing consuming these things is when my engine tends to lose power. So if I’m smart, I keep myself well fuelled.

I used to write book reviews in this blog, but I don’t think that was a great use of my time. Instead, I’m going to start doing a semi-regular review of the media that’s gotten into my brain and stayed there. Here’s what did it for me in January. I’ll keep things spoiler free.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Rogue One was a flawed movie, but I loved every second of it. It was different from every other Star Wars movie. It set out to accomplish something else, and in my mind it succeeded wildly. The ending, in particular, was probably one of the most intense and excellent climaxes I’ve experienced, and kept me on the edge of my seat (not unlike another favourite of mine, Fury Road). I hope this isn’t the last Star Wars movie that has an emphasis on the war.

hqdefaultRimworld: I mentioned Rimworld last week. Video games occupy a bit of a strange space for me. As the primary waster of time in my life throughout my late teens and 20s, I regard them with some suspicion. On the other hand, some of my favourite stories have come in the form of video games (I’m a huge fan of older games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and later games like Dragon Age: Origins). Furthermore, video games are my primary stress response. Nothing helps me turn off fear, anxiety or worry like immersing myself in a game, in a way that TV or a book doesn’t. I’ve cut down the amount of time I play games a lot from earlier in my life, but my attempts to stop playing them entirely have failed. So I regard them as useful, so long as I’m careful.

Anyway, Rimworld is my current obsession. It’s a sci-fi colony simulator, similar to Dwarf Fortress but a lot more accessible. It’s still technically in alpha, but it’s by far the best-polished games I’ve enjoyed and is fully playable. If  you’re into management games, then this is probably up your alley. I could play it all day if I’m not careful. Also, fuck megaspiders. You can grab Rimworld on Steam.

Voltron: Legendary Defender: I will admit right her to being possibly the world’s worst TV watcher (to my wife’s eternal frustration). For some reason, my brain regards TV as a waste of time (while wanting to play video games instead). I don’t really like watching one episode a week, but I also don’t have a lot of patience to watch a bunch of episodes in a row. I can start watching something, really enjoy it, and just never continue. So with all that said, I’m really enjoying the new Voltron series (from my point about 6 episodes in). It’s fun in a Avatar: The Last Airbender sort of way. Now, we’ll see if I actually keep watching it, but for now it makes the list. You can watch it on Netflix.

There are no books on my list this month. I spent a lot of my time reading non-fiction. Even though they aren’t really creative fuel, I should mention Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Positive Trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. I’m a huge fan of their work. I would go so far as to say their emotion thesaurus is essential.

2nd draft

Cloudbreakers
0% Complete
of 90,000 words

Right now I’m working on re-plotting and other background work. I’m hoping to have this rewrite knocked off by the end of March. We’ll see how it goes.

Writing through

I don’t think it requires any great leap to say that a lot of creatives are struggling with the ongoing torrent of news. If you lean progressive (as I do), you can find something in the ongoing shittorrent of current events to concern and terrify you. The shooting in Quebec,  a potential constitutional crisis in the United States, whatever. By the time I post this article, I’m sure something new and worse will have happened. As if KRH and having tossed a hand grenade into my relationship wasn’t enough, it’s impossible to so much as glance at social media or the news without hearing about something terrible.

Not long ago, Chuck Wendig offered the advice “Write despite.” And that’s good advice. But the journey for each person to actually getting shit done when the world feels like it’s falling apart is probably going to be a bit different. Here’s how I do it.

Take the time I need. I want to be a writer, and that means writing even when writing isn’t hard or fun. That means meeting deadlines and pushing myself. It means trying, failing, learning and getting better. In short, writing is a career, even if I’m not currently making my living as a writer. But there has to be a balance in my life. And that means doing more than just writing for 8 hours after I get home at night. Sometimes, there’s value in turning off my brain with a video game (Rimworld is my current obsession.)  Or a movie or a book. Or a night with friends. All these things are important to keep myself sane, and also to refuel my creative engine. Some days, I won’t do these things at all. And some days (bad ones) all I can do is refuel and prepare for tomorrow. And that’s fine, so long as tomorrow I write.

Take care of myself. It isn’t enough to just take mental time for myself. I have to take care of my body, too. Although I might occasionally stay up late to hit a deadline, for me sacrificing sleep to write is a losing battle that makes me feel worse and doesn’t help me write better. Sacrificing time from the gym is the same story. Also important is taking the time to cook and eat properly, both to keep my wife fed and because I do best when I fuel myself properly. All seems basic, but it’s easy to forget sometimes.

Stay aware and engaged, but not too aware and engaged. The internet is a seething mass of terror sometimes. I browse social media and such during the day. But when it’s time to write, if I have my internet connection open or my phone out, I can browse twitter all day rather than actually putting my fingers to keyboard. That’s a great way to waste the time I have, so I need to use programs like Anti-Social or just plain put my phone out of reach and write.

Remember why I do this. Why do I write? Wouldn’t it just be simpler to give up on the remote dream of publication, let alone the near-impossibility of writing full time? Wouldn’t my time be better spent with KRH, my wife, my friends and family? Wouldn’t I feel better if I spent more time at the gym, sleeping and playing games? Wouldn’t I spare myself stressing over word choice, story progress, querying agents and writing the best damn books I can? Maybe, but one thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m not happy unless I’m writing.

I have a need to tell stories. I want to think those stories matter. I want to think that I can use my passion to make the world a better place for my son, my friends and family. I want to think that people who I don’t know might someday read my stories and have them mean something. Even if I wasn’t chasing publication, I think I would still be telling stories. In part, that’s why I made this blog. It would be far easier to just give this writing thing up for 6 months or so until KRH was older, or until he was in school, or a teenager, or out of the house. But I can’t. So I write because I want to and because I need to.

In other news, I finished my first edit. Now I’m making notes and identifying things I need to fix in a printed copy of the draft. After that, I’ll go back to my notes, re-snowflake, make note of consistency details, write a stylesheet and things like that. Afterwards, I start work on the second draft, a total rewrite.

Progress

Cloudbreakers
100% Complete
416 of 416 pages