New Post Writing again

Wait. Write for who?

When I’m tempted to say, “Don’t worry about other people, just write for yourself” to someone I always stop and bite my tongue. Here’s why: the encouragement aspect doesn’t cross the pronoun barrier intact. It doesn’t mean what I want it to mean.

Writing for self is the ideal attitude when self-administered. “I write for myself,” I say, and that equals “I do this because it pleases me.”  Making stories is an endeavor that combines hard labor and creative joy, and pleasing others with the results is on my list of joys. But I don’t put in the hours of blood, sweat, and tears expecting anyone else’s approval.

The problem comes when, write-for-self  is issued as advice to someone else. That someone is usually feeling rudderless,  bloodied by criticism, or mired in self-doubt. And under those circumstances  the subtext of “just write for yourself,” is far less than ideal.

“You should write for yourself” can magically transform itself into little whispers of disdain. It begins to mean, “Stop whining and feeling lost/hurt/unwanted. Stop expecting anyone else to give a shit. You’re better off keeping your writing to yourself because one else wants it anyway. Shut up and go sit in the corner already. No one cares, no one wants to be bothered.”

Heard once, those whispers of interpretation are easily ignored. When over and over again, someone hears “just write for yourself, stop caring what other people think,” it  can become a slow dripping poison that etches holes in the ego and bruises the soul.

I don’t like briusing people unintentionally.  That acid mutation of meaning is why I don’t offer it as solace and why I loathe hearing it. As a confidence booster it has the opposite effect I think people intend. Or…well, let’s say I hope they don’t intend it as it sounds. Maybe they do.

Maybe they are trying to gently encourage me to go sit in the corner and stop sharing because they hate what I say and wish I would stop sharing it. I just don’t know. It could be read either way, and I’m not good with subtlety. Multiple meanings make it  easy to be discouraging with encouragement. Damned with faint praise, even.

Am I being too analytical and “overthinking” this? Maybe. Thing is,  I’ve learned that people who tell me I’m over-thinking things seldom have my best interests at heart. They usually want to undermine me without taking any blame for it.

So I’m more likely to believe my own bitter interpretation over the cheerier one. And that’s why I avoid offering it as encouragement. It isn’t encouraging.

Writing for myself is like breathing. It’s going to happen. I don’t go around telling other people they should breathe for themselves either. If I did, they would probably wonder if they were breathing too loudly and suspect I wished they would shut up. And that simply wouldn’t be true.


Writing again

What I don’t talk about.

I don’t talk much about hurting myself by “walking too fast” or “picking up a pencil the wrong way”  because that’s my baseline, just as it’s my normal for unstructured social interaction to be a risky gamble. I might pay for attending a party  with hours to days of shaky mental exhaustion or emotional swan dives, I might sprain my wrists stirring a pot of soup, but there’s nothing unusual about either event. I don’t think twice about them. I don’t talk much about breathing or digesting either. Such things are not noteworthy.

The work I put into life  doesn’t feel remarkable either.  I like being active. I like people. I like to push myself. Those traits plus a damfine big box of coping mechanisms obscure how unusual my routines are. Lots of people are introverted, so  I don’t dwell on the enjoyments I ration because I don’t have emotional resilience to spare. Athletes equip themselves to avoid injuries, and daily life is a contact sport for me, so what’s the difference? Exercise is healthy. No big deal that I must do strength exercises and walk minimum 3 miles daily or pay for the deficit in cramps and impinged nerves.

So there are positive reasons I don’t talk about my assorted issues. I seriously don’t notice them unless someone compares my life to norms. (One particularly memorable adolescent conversation involved my disbelief in days without pain. “Like, not any pain?” I asked, wondering if I was being pranked.)  The last reason I keep this stuff to myself isn’t so good. Shame and fear of judgment.  

I work hard to walk in the wide world of normal. That shouldn’t mean forfeiting my right to say I’m only faking normal, but somehow it does. I can look like a duck and quack like one, so I am left feeling like a cheater for not being duckish. I am functional, more or less, as long as I do certain things.  So if I’m not better I’m not working hard enough. right? It’s my own fault. If I had a better attitude and put in more effort, I would be fine.

I know that’s an insidious lie, but it’s the kind that slips past defenses and eats away confidence like acid on a wooden building foundation. And here’s the kicker: buying into the lie leads to guilt. Wimp. Whiner. Quit-exaggerating-you-lying-attention-whore is the internal whisper I hear when I admit to injury or weakness. Always.

It would help if I had an official seal of medical diagnosis, but I don’t. I have plenty of treatment documentation, but there’s a chasm between fitting a condition profile and the legitimizing stamp of a doctor’s note. I have never leaped that gap. My physical condition was diagnosed off-hand by a college health clinic resident in the era before electronic records, and the mental stuff? Well. Let’s just say the cause & effect patterns are obvious but have never been severe enough to make me seek treatment.

Why not? The affirmation would be nice, I admit.  It’s my lazy streak at work. The  official process for pinning causes to intermittent symptoms is frustrating and exhausting even with supportive doctors. And support is mighty hard to find.  So that’s two strikes against putting myself through the wringer. The third strike? There are no cures for what ails me. There are specific management therapies and behaviors, but I already employ them all. Medication? The very idea of testing brands and dosages is too daunting to contemplate. Things will have to get much worse before I’m willing to play that horrible  whack-a-mole game.

Someday I’ll be forced to it. Right now I manage well enough, but my body ages and my brain will always find ways to surprise me. (First time I faced a social situation unarmored by a job title? Oh, hey, that’s what a panic attack feels like! Fun times! Not.)

As it stands now,  with no pill bottles or certification to wield, I never truly believe anyone else believes me when I claim injury or weakness.  Why should they believe in the rotted core when the disguise is effective? Hell, I have trouble accepting it, and I live it.

The best I can do is lay out information up-front, then let it drop. Full disclosure doesn’t stamp out my internal critic, but it does cut down on vocal judgments like, “It must be so nice to be able to eat anything you want and stay skinny,” “Just go to the party for a little while, what can it hurt?” or “But you look perfectly fine.”  (That’s my favorite: when people tell me to my face that I’m not unhealthy enough to satisfy them.)

I know I’m being silently judged even when people don’t say thoughtless, vicious things. But when I lay the groundwork early I don’t have to hear it as often.

So when you notice I sprained my finger, and I say I did it tying my shoe? When I’m incapacitated by a headache before a big to-do? Go ahead and laugh. I do.  Sympathy is okay too. But please don’t say it’s unbelievable.

Because it’s my reality. I just don’t talk much about it.

This article by someone with much worse problems than mine expresses all these feels better than I ever could.  I’ll wrap with that.


Writing again

Life’s Latest Detour

My husband, aka my superhero Spouseman,  went into the ER for a kidney stone in late winter…and at the end of April he woke up from successful surgery for prostate cancer. Nice punchline, right? Boom. Done.

Not so much. For one thing, cancer makes awkward joke material. Second, that ellipsis hides a lot of stressful testing, waiting, and prep.  Third, the wake-up is the beginning, not the end.

The recovery is a process. A journey. A trip into uncharted waters. A leap into the thin air of the unknown. However you analogize it, there’s a point in common: the best travel tales aren’t fun while they’re happening. Pain, conflict, stress, and suffering make riveting fiction because they’re hell in real life.

Stories are what I do, so I’ll be relating events as they happen to me and Spouseman here in my blog even though it isn’t about writing. I probably won’t do it often, but whenever the muse tickles my fancy, whenever life leaves me no heart for other words, I will end up telling tales here.  Life is one long series of detoured plans, and art is life. Here we are.

I’m pleased to announce that Spouseman and I have made it through the prologue stage of this trip, so to speak.  Great time to throw in a bit of ‘splainy exposition, right? Right!

As cancer breeds go, prostate cancer is more like a hyperactive terrier than a pit bull like leukemia or an ovarian-cancer dire wolf. The tumors grow exceptionally slowly. The survival statistics are notably high compared to other cancers. There’s also a lot of controversy in the medical literature and media right now regarding overzealous testing, high false positive results and unnecessary treatment. So here’s a note to alla y’all armchair medicos out there wondering if a surgery needed to happen:  yes. This terrier was as ferocious as they come, and it needed to be put down fast.

Nuff said on that. Onward to the Fun of Life with A Post-Surgical Patient.

The last month ain’t been smooth sailing by any measure. No matter how well you know someone, there are still discoveries to be made. I recently discovered an interesting and relevant bit of trivia about Spouseman: he magically reached his current age without ever once breaking a bone, needing stitches, or even being sick longer than a week–or with any ailment more serious than flu or chicken pox. (Which he didn’t catch until adulthood,  a tale in its own right.)

Compare that charmed life to my medical adventures, which started at age two with 13 stitches in my chin, followed by eye surgery at age four, onward into adulthood via a dislocated elbow, a variety pack of stitchings, a broken finger, broken foot…I’ll stop, but there is more. Lots more.

Why is it relevant trivia? Well.  Ahem. Spouseman has been an empathetic and understanding caregiver through many a healing of mine, but he’d never once experienced it himself. And somehow he never picked up a solitary clue from watching my woes or those of friends. Bless his heart.

If he had ever endured serious physical injury or surgery (or had a larger talent for learning by observation) he would’ve known he was facing a long, frustrating, unbearably awful experience.No matter how painful or devastating the inciting incident, being taken apart and put back together is a singular life event. Healing spans whole epochs of life history. The grind of re-adjusting to a body fundamentally altered is a horrendous test of emotional endurance.

Since Spouseman didn’t know those truths at the gut level,  this past month has been one long, grueling lesson about the way gain follows pain. (Or doesn’t, as the case may be.)

Improvements don’t appear on a nice, regimented, logical, predictable schedule. They’re more like a happy little lambs at play. They pop up here and there, they disappear and panic everyone, they produce startling, random, and indecipherable smells, noises and sights. And everywhere one turns, one steps in the steaming heaps of aggravation they leave behind. Even when things are getting better, they’re different. And that chafes.

My biggest new job? (other than laundry…oh, gods of chaos,  THE UNENDING LAUNDRY) My job is whatever helps. On a daily basis: offering comfort and a listening heart;  being the growly voice of reason; and finding smiles amidst the daily indignities.  Humor is an effective weapon against pain. Laughing through tears is sometimes the only way to get by.

Me being me, there’s the occasional bout of snarly snapping, exasperated impatience, and passionate intolerance for certain core traits that hamper the whole getting-better process. That comes part & parcel with the whole “for better, for worse” promise. The dude is stuck with me, sharp tongue, short temper, sour personality and all.

I’m not sure where I was going with this post (if anywhere.  I wanted to share the details of this shift in my world, and I have. This is where I am, where Spouseman is, where we are. Declaring to the world that we will keep grinding forward through this journey  one bumpy, awkward detour at a time.


New Post

Pants on fire

This started as a reply to the question that comes up every so often in writing forums: “Plotter versus pantser.” The question is usually raised by someone who’s recently moved from the second camp to the first and is aflame with the evangelical zeal of the newly-converted. It’s a thinly-veiled (if it’s veiled at all) cry to embrace the joys of plotting.

I have thoughts on this. First, calling the split plotting vs pantsing judgmentally ignores the reality that pantsers do plot. The real split in process is whether the plot is fully planned prior to writing the narrative or discovered during writing the first draft. Even that split isn’t an absolute. Ask anyone who’s had a grand outline crash and burn when a new creative idea appears like a supernova in the middle of building their story.

I emphatically disagree with the idea that prior plotting requires more thought than pantsing straight out. It requires different thought. Just as ballet differs from gymnastics, pantsing and planning are both approaches to artistic creation that use many of the same basic tools in different ways.

Some people start their writing career as planners, some gravitate to it with experience or training (especially since creative workshops push its development) and some have no *need* for it. And all those paths are equally good if they lead to a result the author loves.

My (moderately complicated) novels can be outlined. The standard narrative structures are visible to anyone who wants to analyze them. But they develop that way straight to the page. Pantsed all the way. It’s the easiest way for me to write.

It’s a rough fight these days to remain a pantser because that approach doesn’t mesh well with production schedules and regular release dates. Discovery and punctuality don’t play well. Those truths do NOT make planning a better approach. Planning is a more commercially-friendly one. Not the same thing as better, except in one particular sense: financially.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that financial success is an invalid measure of writing goodness where goodness applies to ideas and wordcraft.

I am so tired of typing that point. It seems so damned obvious to me, but it gets lost in the shuffle every day.   Lots of lip service gets paid to “great writing gets overlooked every day” but the proof of disrespect is in the inability to join the SFWA, the science fiction writer’s trade organization, until you’ve achieved specific and arcane sales thresholds. (the blatant bias for short fiction and deliberate marginalization of independent novelists continue to irk me, but that’s a whole ‘nother post. And I acknowledge this is an SF thing.

The trade organizations for mystery/thrillers and for romance writing (for example) do not treat active membership like a private cool-kids-only club.

Anyway. Sales are great. I want all the sales ever. But I want to tell the stories in my heart even more, even if those stories do not fit into tidy categories or grow according to a tidy timetable. Which, so far, they have not. Thus I pants along producing my quirky, skewed tales. But I digress.

Back to the bigger the wider picture,  how should writers decide which method works best?

First we have to decide on our goals. Then we gan write start whichever method is most comfortable, and explore the others when–or if– it feels right, and in line with our changing, evolving goals and lives.

That last part is another oft-overlooked point. Developing a distinctive personal approach–finding a comfortable balance between mapping and discovery–is not a one-time choice, nor an irrevocable decision. It isn’t an us vs them issue. They’re both tools.

Analogy time again. Some people prefer hammers, some people love nail guns. And some people get great results with mallets. I like to play with ALL the tools, but to say any one of them is always the right one?  I reject that idea. Would we tell a woodworker who builds with dowels and glue they’ll never be successful/aren’t professional  unless they use a power drill and steel screws so they can make a certain number of cabinets a year? Nope.

All writers deserve the same artistic respect of being judged on quality results, not quantity or process.  That’s my cranky, contrarian take on the subject.  Again.