A wall of many bricks

2013/05/08 § Leave a comment

I said in my previous post that I would talk about the obstacles that I face in my goal to write. This could, of course, be an attempt to find in advance justifications for my future failures. I’ve decided to be more charitable with myself and view this as an exercise in introspection and in identifying what will likely trip me, so I can avoid it.

The obstacles I see fall into two categories: internal, having to do with my temperament and whatever passes for my brain, and external, linked with my environment and my situation. While the external obstacles will certainly be a pain if ignored, I think the internal obstacles are the most dangerous. Obviously, I’m not discovering the wheel here, this has been said by many before me. But it’s interesting nonetheless to actually do the examination for myself and realize that while environment is important, in the end I’m the master of my faith.

I should mention that I’ve had the luck to be born and stay relatively healthy, both physically and mentally, to come from a good family which valued curiosity, reading and education, to have lacked for very little while growing up, and to be from Canada, such that my education did not bury me under crushing mountains of debt. As such, none of my problems are real killers.

That said, these I think are the external obstacles I face:

WORK – That’s a problem every aspiring writer faces, I imagine. You need to pay the bills, and unless you’re good and productive enough, writing just has to fit around whatever it is that you have to do to earn money. That means writing in the morning or in the evening, or maybe during lunch time, and I guess that’s part of the game. My concern is that my work is intellectual, but not in any obvious way that will help me with fiction writing. I wonder whether one will interfere with the other: if I write in the morning (which is my prefered time), will my brain be fried or too much in my world when comes time to go to work? Or if I write in the evening, will I have the energy to do anything good? I’ll test both and see. Hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze some decent 500 words per day sessions around my 8:30 to 18:00 work time (with commute). On the flip side, having decent work means I have money, which I can use for example to have someone proofread my stuff (see language below).

CHORES – To complicate matters a little, I’m the one who cooks at home, and it’s not about to change just for this project. So it’s not all free time in the evening. This is not so bad, because I think I’m most productive in the morning, but this, as well as all the little chores one has to do, is still something that takes away significant levels of available time. I take it as a universal law (or at least guideline) that chores are annoying.

SLEEP – This is the corollary to the work and chores obstacles. Together they have to do with the time available for writing, and the state I’m in when I get to it. I don’t sleep so well, usually waking early regardless of the hour at which I went to bed. That could be a good thing, because it means more time awake, but this awake time is not that useful if it’s spent in a haze of sleep deprivation-induced confusion. On this one, discipline is the key – going to bed early (but it means less time…), careful with the wine in the evening (I’m a wuss), and no tv after certain hours (damn those excellent series and funny comedies).

LANGUAGE – English is not my first language (I’m a Quebec Francophone). And while I think I’m decent at it, I’m certainly not that good. My English is mostly instinctual. I can never remember all the rules and correct spelling. I’ve put this as an external obstacle because this is the state of things now, and I can’t just will them otherwise. I can improve, of course, and I intend to do so, but it’s going to take some time. In the interim, it slows down the writing (I’m always looking for the correct word) and my range is limited, but it’ll have to do. Why do I write in English then? Good question… Part of it is that I’ve been reading in English for 20 years now, so it’s the language I’m most used to for fiction, and particularly for fantasy or science fiction. To me, those universes are English universes (and, to be frank, Dragonbane or Darkslayer simply do not have the same punch in French: Fléau des dragons, Pourfendeur de l’ombre… It’s just really, really not the same). Also, and this is the capitalist in me speaking, if ever I reach a point where I can sell stuff, there is a much bigger market in the English than French world.

Now, the terrible trifecta of internal obstacles:

PAIN – This will come as no surprise to those who do this for a living (or for fun), but writing, and most importantly writing well, is hard. Really, really hard. And I have a tendency to shirk hard things. To procrastinate (by writing a blog for example, instead of writing my story). I am lazy and have little discipline, and I really hate that about myself (I greatly admire perseverance in the face of adversity as a quality – to me it’s one of the defining traits of heroes). To quote Teddy, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty”. So, writing is not only about writing, but also about becoming someone I can be proud of. Tough order…

FEAR – As I’ve said before, I have been telling people I want to write for more than 20 years. But I never actually wrote anything. Part of it is that it’s hard, but part of it is that it’s scary: what if I can’t cut it? What if I fail? Best argument ever for not trying… No chance you’re gonna fail! Not a chance you’ll have to conclude you’re just not good enough. Seriously, it sucks. With a few exceptions, I’ve mostly taken the well-lit path, the secure track (mainly school oriented – I was always good at school), rarely venturing in the shadows, where the exciting things happen. But it’s never brought me any deep satisfaction. It’s a cliché, but I want to be able to say that, even if I fail, even if I’m not good enough, at least I’ll have tried writing. Failure is okay. It’s disappointing, but it shouldn’t be so scary that it stops you from going forward. Writing is my gom jabbar: I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear…

DOUBT – Fear and difficulty have a nasty cousin, and he’s called doubt. More precisely, doubt of my abilities. I think that, deep down, I have this belief that I’m not capable of doing this, or at least not well enough. This belief is reinforced by most things I read – “there is no way I can write something like that,” says I. But I’ve come to realize that this doubt is anchored in an illusion: it is about the now, not the then, but it is the then that matters. Of course my writing is not good enough! I’ve never really written. But it will get better, if I write. Whether it’ll get good enough is another question, but I will never know if I let my doubts of the present stop me. Also, doubt is a crippler if I approach this from the wrong perspective. While trying to write is important to me and I’m curious to see where it leads, I’ve come to realize that it need not be anything more than a hobby. For writing to be something that I do, it must be fun. I love creating stories, and that creation must be free of expectations. I’ve tended to be drawn to writing in great part because of the perceived lifestyle, and thus as something one does for a living. If seen in that lens, of course doubt is debilitating: if you don’t have the skills, you don’t make money. But if writing is just something I do, without imperatives other than my own growth, if I don’t expect it to draw anybody other than myself, then doubt looses all strength.

To recap, the key to facing my external obstacles, mainly time constraints, will be organization and discipline. And English lessons. For the internal obstacles, I need to embrace the zen of writing, to write for writing’s sake, without expectations other than the pleasures of the words. I will embrace pain and fear and doubt, and I will breathe, then I will burp, and they will be carried away by the wind…

PS: In a little less than to two hours of writing this post this morning I’ve managed to put together close to a thousand words of not-total crap. Things are looking good if I can do the same when the time to write my story comes!

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