What kind of writer are you, and what do you have to change or improve to be where you want to be?
Wherever you are in your writing career, self-reflection and the ability to change course is always a useful vehicle for improvement. I ran across some notes I’d written to myself a few years, lifted and repurposed from an ACT therapist’s manual about the different categorizations of therapists. The manual asked the reader to imagine that choosing which category they wanted to be in (Good, Very Good, or Excellent) was as easy as selecting items off a menu. Everyone has intrinsic ideas of what category they are in, and which category they want to be in. I decided to repurpose this idea for my own profession – writing.”
The act of writing day to day is such an isolating experience. I rarely leave my little den except to take my puppies to the park, or maybe go to the grocery store to pick up more chicken jerky and k-cups. Mostly I enjoy my quiet. It gives me the focus to take the everyday deep-dives into the snarled web of my consciousness, and occasionally bring back something useful. But it can also be derealizing – you can lose touch with reality, with the idea that what you’re doing has any use or value. Live too long in a dream, and the dream begins to warp you.
The moments when you can actually see the effect that your writing has on the outside world are rare. Going into a reading and meeting with other writers often seems to give me shellshock. Everything is actualized and real. You get to see the writers themselves, projecting forth the creations they made inside their isolated neurological soup. This past Friday I was asked to participate in Laura Lee Bahr’s “Bahr Crawl,” in which she travels across the country taking part in readings with other bizarro authors.
I read an except from my short story, Skin Suits, which will be out this year in A Breath from The Sky from Martian Migraine Press. You can see my transformation – from the protagonist in black, to the suit of “Sara” in the blue fur. I hadn’t really practiced my transition – so I think there were a few seconds where everyone thought I was stripping in the middle of my reading. Gabino Iglesias said he thought I’d finally snapped.
Laura read from her short story collection Angel Meat, out from Fungasm Press this year. Everytime I step into a room with Laura, she seems to make the air brighter. She’s radiant and vulnerable and open. I think the cover of her new collection manages to accurately capture her likeness
In order to be a writer, one must build a life that is conducive to writing.
For most of my life I found scraps of time to write, moments of soft isolation inbetween work, relationships, the everyday minutiae. I wrote pieces of The Crooked God Machine on the bathroom floor of an apartment, parts of We are Wormwood when I was a video game tester at Zynga. But as time went on, writing kept getting pushed further and further back in priority, and I stopped submitting, stopped promoting myself. Everything I wrote felt muted, flat, like I was forcing each word through a little keyhole.
I arrived back in Austin in 2014 feeling broken. I never thought I could reach a point where I felt drained of all creative energy – it seemed impossible to me to feel burn out, so I never treated the possibility with the respect that I deserved. Here I was, coming off of my antidepressants, feeling zapped, bewildered. I was angry, and I wanted to murder people for existing in my space on planet Earth. And all of that directed energy was not going into writing. So when I came to the page, nothing felt genuine. It was like I was a sleepwalker, going through familiar motions.
I wondered for a long time if I just didn’t want to write anymore.
But it’s easy to ignore all the work I put in, throughout my life, to prime my brain to be productive. And how such a machine may run for quite a long time, but without maintenance or proper care, would eventually break down.
Writing is a full time job. The work doesn’t happen once you arrive at the page – it starts from the moment you wake up, and has to carry itself with you throughout the day. The brain has to be working on these problems constantly. You have to synthesize your experiences, test creative problems. Writing is a record of sensory data, distilled into stories. If you don’t do the prerequisite work, to understand and analyze your experiences and what you want to convey – you may have nothing
I think a lot these days about how to create for myself a life that would best enable me to accomplish my goals. For the last several years, I’ve struggled to find a cadence with my writing, and I’ve tried to understand how I want it to define me, and how I want to approach it.
Now I have the time and the freedom to build something wonderful, but building something takes time.
I want to taste books like big meals, and make big meals to taste the universe. And I want to refine, test, and experience more of the world so I can bring that knowledge back to my quiet room. Not to get back to where I was post burnout, but to make something even more wonderful. A beautiful infrastructure, in which I can live, and write. I’m already seeing flowers growing along the back of my spine