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Sunday, 17 September 2017

Haunted

Not sure I had much to write about/think about this week, as I've been running around between meetings and conferences for work since Tuesday. But the weekend is always a bit of an odd time for me, especially now that I live in Palo Alto and especially now that I work from home most of the week.

But this article, which I just read scant minutes ago, is haunting me to a certain extent. Loneliness is a thing I've been wrestling with a lot, since I've been pretty constantly single throughout my adulthood, and in a lot of ways I'm generally quite solitary. I make efforts to go out with friends - this is a big part of why I left London in the first place - but lately, especially since turning 38 earlier this year, the scope of my life alone has been hitting me harder, especially as more and more of my friends settle down, have kids, get divorced.

Hayley Campbell's article underlines an unpleasant dilemma - do you delve into what's bothering you with a mental health professional, or do you try to stave it off by getting out of your head in some fashion? That could be substances, experiences or wearing yourself out... but whichever you choose it feels shallow and not particularly helpful long term, at least as regards staving it off for more than a few minutes at a time.

I probably went looking for it this time, of course - I just got home after dinner with my family and was congratulating myself on feeling quite satisfied (we went up to Foothills Park, had dim sum and then ate ice cream!), but I have a look at social media, find the above article and suddenly I'm contemplating another evening that a therapist once called "deathly". That article underlines what the therapist probably meant, i.e. actually being around to watch the rest of the world go on without you.

The other thing that doesn't help is an email exchange I had recently with a published writer whose work I like, who seemed quite unhappy with the chain of causality that brought him or her to this point. It's fair to say that's been haunting me too, and for a bit longer - the question, which I've wrestled with before, of whether I can have both a satisfying career and a satisfying personal life. Given that I've had neither for so long, choosing only one is proving quite stressful.

It's not just my own oblivion I'm contemplating more frequently now, though - it's becoming more and more real to me that some family members are closer to the end than the beginning, and I can't expect them always to be there.

(By the way, the phrase above, "contemplating my own oblivion", doesn't mean I'm planning anything drastic. It just refers to the fact that the fact itself has come front and center to my thinking. It's gotten so that I can't take naps anymore in the afternoon without imagining my life ticking away by seconds)

What I'm afraid to ask is if anyone else thinks about it this way. It kind of sounds like some do, or at least that they have bad times at the same age that I have. For instance I just heard a podcast where Chris Hardwick talks about how 38 was a difficult year for him; that was somewhat heartening.

The idea of living each day as if it were your last has always bothered me, because I always feel like I wouldn't get anything done. But more podcast listening has me convinced that maybe the way to go about it is not to worry about leaving things complete, but rather to put my all into each of them, and go to bed satisfied that I did a good job.

Still. I wouldn't mind having this worry go away - potentially chased off by a flurry of attractive sexual partners, the attentions of literary agents and entertainment managers, and knowing that I won't starve in my old age. Despite what my published author acquaintance says, I have to believe all three are possible at the same time.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Getting Your Writing Unstuck

Just put the finishing touches on a first/rough draft of a new short story yesterday, and to celebrate I thought I'd talk about my process and how it's changed over the last couple of years.

This wouldn't be such a big thing ordinarily, but up until this year I haven't written much in the way of short stories, as I've been more focused on novels and screenplays. In fact, of the stories I've got on deck that I'm submitting, the newest was, for a long time, something I'd originally written in 2011.

It's hard to say why, other than that novels represented a lot more potential to be busy writing, and because all of the ideas I seemed to be having at the time lent themselves better to longer stories. I did have an idea for a steampunk-type story back in 2013, after reading Lavie Tidhar's Bookman series, and while I finished that, I've never revisited it, as I don't think I achieved what I wanted to (and it broke a rule Lavie Tidhar himself told me, which is that a steampunk story needs to be about more than being steampunk).

What helped this year is a concept that I got from Chris Hardwick's The Nerdist Way, just for a change. Specifically he talks about doing something really hacky when you're stuck, just as a way to get your creative juices flowing. This isn't too different from Tim Ferriss's thing about doing the absolute minimum, but I see this more as a way to attack something like writer's block.

Another thing that helped was seeing Adam Roberts's short story collection, Adam Robots, in which he effectively did his spin on every type of science fiction story out there. I don't know if it was the result of his own attempts to beat writer's block, as I never read it (though frankly I probably ought to, as he's a damn good writer), but it got me thinking in those same terms.

So the story I just finished is, essentially, my robot story, as I've already written my clones story (called I Just Don't Know You Anymore, and which earned me a cool £50 from Spinetinglers.co.uk back in 2013). The beauty of starting from something really hacky is that it can turn into something good, because the creative juices have started flowing. The robot thing might need a lot of work, of course - as I said, I just finished the first draft - but it does feel like something I want to share with beta readers and such, and it does manage to touch on some important themes.

The other thing that got me unstuck on the short story front was writing in other formats. I may have mentioned a screenplay I was working on with a friend over the last couple of years. That project died a death, as the story didn't quite come together and because he sort of gave up writing for lawyering, but I decided (with his blessing, as he came up with the original idea) to repurpose it as a short story. And the happy ending part is that I came out with something I feel quite proud of, which also means it's started going out to markets.

So the upshot is that if you find yourself stuck, try writing something really cheesy and cliched, just as a way to get moving; or raid other ideas that haven't gelled in other formats.