“500 words on anything”. What’s that, then?

Lately I’ve found myself struggling badly to write, and more often than not finding it too hard to really try.

It’s understandable, I suppose. The first time I set out to write something as an adult, it ended up being Cleave Also, which succeeded beyond any expectations I could’ve had for it. (I didn’t really expect anything, so the fact that people liked it at all meant a lot to me! As did the fact that I started and finished it, which was a new experience.) On the other hand, I started that work while still in the grip of a two-week-long fever that, while physically draining, put me in a state of mind that was full of wonder. There was no real effort involved for a lot of that story, especially early on. It was like being a child again, achieving the improbable in no small part simply because I had no idea how unlikely it was that I’d do so. By the time I had to actually work at that story, there was so much of it already there - both in the tale itself, and in my exceedingly copious notes and designs for where it might go - that I needed only stand atop my own shoulders to see all the way to the end.

The second time, it was Voortrekker, which - well, I still do need to finish that, if I can; the epistolary style that started out so much fun ultimately became quite limiting as my characters moved from place to place, and I haven’t really decided how to solve that problem. - well, that’s not quite true; I’m almost certainly going to abandon the format in order to continue the story, because there are a lot of things I have in mind for those characters that simply won’t work as a series of interstellar emails. For example - spoilers here, if you care - Kit, Sam, and Amelia are absolutely going to end up together on Esperance, and there’s no way for the QEC to fit into that relationship without what feels like an excess of artifice. So the decision to abandon the format is already made, but as I found out while trying and failing to continue the story last November, I’ve lost essentially all my momentum in that work, and have so far been unable to get the truck back out of the mud.

Since then, I’ve written a few tens of thousands of words, sure. But it has been sporadic, and always a struggle, and I’ve found myself unable to produce anything out of it; I get so far into a piece, and then it’s as if the whole thing simply falls apart in my hands. It’s as if I just lose all the threads, and can’t find them again, and then find myself so discouraged by this that I cease for months at a time even to try.

I don’t like that. I want to write. I need to write, I think; it’s not that I can’t help but write - I clearly can! - but that I never feel quite right when I don’t write. It’s hard to describe but easy to recognize in myself. And I hate it.

The problem isn’t “writer’s block”, whatever that is; the problem is that there are skills here I do not yet have, and I’m apparently very good at getting to a point where I can’t continue without them. So I need to find a way to acquire them. And one of those skills, apparently, is simply trying.

So I’m going to give myself opportunities to do just that. Every day, or most days at least, I’m going to pick the first even vaguely plausible topic - if nothing else presents itself, I’ll take a book off the shelf and skim through until I find a phrase that seems to present possibilities - and I’m going to elaborate on it to the tune of at least 500 words, and probably more.

I won’t be holding myself to any particular standard of quality, so if you’re reading along hoping for gems, it’s better to just go ahead and prepare yourself for disappointment. The point isn’t to produce some kind of amazing short work every day - indeed, the point is not to produce some kind of amazing short work every day; part of the problem I’m having, I think, is that my early successes have led me to impose unrealistically high expectations on myself, and part of the purpose here is to create the experience of not that.

For the same reason, I’m going to post these words every day, too. It’s very easy to come up with reasons why I, personally, don’t need to be disappointed with myself for not doing the thing that I said I would do. It’s easy when no one else will see. So, by posting these daily whatevers-they-are, I’m arranging for the possibility that someone else will see that I’m not doing the thing that I am, here and now, saying that I will in fact do. Granted that probably nobody will really notice! But I’ll know, and I think that will help here as it has helped before.

It’s worth a try, at the very least. I don’t have any better ideas right now! And there’s a larger purpose here, too. Two of them, in fact.

I changed jobs recently, on the idea that the problems I had with the last one were consequences of that specific situation. Some of them proved to be so, and so far I’ve found the new job to be everything I hoped it would be…and, it’s becoming increasingly clear, nothing I actually wanted. That’s not a new experience, and some day before I die I would like to know how it is to earn a living doing something I actually care about. Something I feel like I need to do. I think writing could possibly be that. It is for enough other folks! Granted I am weird and strange and shy. But I don’t think it’s impossible for me, and I do want to find out one way or the other. But to even have a chance at being able to make that happen, I need to actually write. So here I am, too, giving myself a reason to try to make that happen.

And…I don’t know. Is it pretentious to say that I think I have some things that are worth sharing with the world? Maybe it is, but I don’t care. I do think I have some things that are worth sharing with the world. I’m not alone in that thought, either, to judge by what people have said about Cleave Also and Voortrekker. I like compliments and praise as much as anyone, even if I’m kinda weird about how I respond to them because I never think anything I do is ever actually good enough. More than that, I like the feeling of having maybe actually helped someone, even if just a little, by writing and then sharing what I’ve written. A good story takes you out of yourself; a great story makes you feel a little better about being put back in. From what some folks have said, I think Cleave Also and Voortrekker are by that standard at least a little bit great. And I don’t think they’re the only great stories I can find to tell, either.

Of course, in order to do any of that, I actually need to do that. I’ve been pretty bad at that lately, and I’ve had enough of that. So this is me, requiring of myself that I give myself a chance every day to learn how to be better. Maybe it’ll work! Maybe it won’t, and I reserve the right to say after a while that it doesn’t - but not the right to give up.

Let’s see how this plays out, shall we?

(1329 words)

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