Depression 2: A Very Unsexy Update

I haven’t posted an update since the end of August, and while there are reasons for this, they’re not reasons I like—or even like to acknowledge. In fact, I started working on this post in one form or another about two weeks ago, and only that after an acquaintance, coming to understand my situation, suggested that a general update might be in order for the sake of keeping folks informed. He was right, and I told him as much—but it still took me this long to be able to drag myself to the keyboard to get it done.

As I said, there’s a reason for that. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder about ten years ago. In reality, I’d been struggling with it most of my post-pubescent life, but it wasn’t until a particularly devastating event dragged it to the surface that I consented to let anyone put a name on it. And even then, I resented the naming of the name. We’ll get to why shortly.

Unlike normal periods of sadness and grief, this flavor of depression is pretty brutal—or at least my experience of it is. In essence, it shuts down my life. Most of the time when it hits, I’m resilient enough—just enough—to be able to get necessary things done. I can pay the bills, meet most do-or-die public obligations, go to work and go through the motions, put on a decent face at the store or the bank, not scowl too much when friends pay a visit. But behind that façade, the world feels like another planet, but not the kind where you’d want to have an adventure.

It’s like a veil drops down, and nothing matters. And I do mean nothing. Not just, say, the stack of model robots and airplanes I like to build and which are gathering dust on my office shelf. Not just the book or magazine I started reading four months ago and then suddenly couldn’t be forced to finish if my life depended on it. Things like managing basic daily tasks go to hell, too. Things like caring whether I’ve checked the mail (I think maybe I did Friday), or if I’ve brushed my teeth (maybe), or whether I have clean socks or dishes (nope).

When depression gets me by the throat in the worst way, it can spiral much blacker and deeper, too. I’m not suicidal now, thankfully, but I have been before during past battles, and even though that registers quite clearly as unreasonable to the logical parts of my mind, there’s this howling, nebulous little corner of my universe where it makes an unsettling amount of sense. When I blunder into that space, it’s not pretty. Currently (and for a good long while since last time) it’s not an issue. With any luck, and with hard work, it will hopefully remain that way for a long while to come.

But in spite of what I just said, it’s important to stress that my depression did get hold of me at the end of the summer in a bad, if not the worst, way. It’s had its claws dug in ever since, and I’m not out of its clutches yet. Thankfully, with the support of my very patient spouse and too many others to count or easily name here, I’ve kept the very worst of it at bay. But it is very real.

As I’ve observed before on this blog, I don’t like admitting it’s real. I come from a background where things like depression aren’t “real” maladies. They are signs of sin, excuses, weak-spiritedness, absences of faith, or attempts to secure attention or hurt others. But most significantly of all, people facing such issues are considered to be failures regardless of whether they overcome them or are consumed by them—simply because they have faced them.

So in confronting my own depression, I often find myself unwilling to accept that it exists (and therefore unwilling seek help battling it) despite the fact that I can map with reasonable accuracy every single time it has kicked my ass since about the age of 12.

It’s kicking my ass right now, for instance.

But I’m undertaking to get help with it this time. If you’ll entertain a bit of blunt, dark humor, I’m sick to death of it. That being the case, it’s worth noting that “fixing” this bout of depression so I can finish up Oath as I intend isn’t a precise art. I’m in the midst of a lot of work hauling myself out of the hole, and I’m often consumed by the frustration that I can’t cure it with willpower, or cauterize it like a gaping wound, or lop it off like a rotten appendage and move on with my life, get back to normal quickly, get things done.

I realize that where I’m at right now may look like laziness, but I want to assure you that it is not. I will finish Oath, and I will go on to complete other projects, too. I have many of them planned. Right now, though, I feel like I’m falling down on the job here, being a bad writer, a bad human being, you name it. But I also know my mind, right now, in its current state, wants to “hurry up and fail” so it can confirm what it already believes: that Oath will fail because I, by (an illogical) definition, must fail—you know, because depression.

But I refuse to consign this project or any other to failure just because of a self-sabotaging thought pattern that has no grounding in reality. What that means, unfortunately, is that work on Oath must, by necessity, be slow going until I have attended to this current battle.

I have been advised by folks whom I trust to provide wise external perspectives that this is good. That more time, even if I don’t like it, is what this needs. Right now, I’m going to trust that perspective, as the past months have told me that my understanding of certain things is out of joint. I’m not a little grumpy about it, but so far all the advice I’ve received has turned out to be good.

So if that means more time, whether I like it or not, I have to give it more time. But it will get done. All I can ask of you at this juncture is your patience as I work through this.

Deader Than the Dinosaurs?

A lot of things are happening this weekend, both around the house and elsewhere. One of the biggest and most relevant to SFF as a community is WorldCon, which is underway right now in San Antonio. Sadly, while I’d hoped to make it this year, it wasn’t in the cards for me, but for those numerous friends and acquaintances who will be in attendance, I offer my best wishes for a fun and memorable time.
Where it comes to matters in which I am involved, progress on the rewrite continues. It’s slower than I would prefer, but it is steady and positive—which, to me, is the most important thing. I also head back to work at my day job on Tuesday after a bit of a summer break. This means my writing time will be diminished, so I’m pushing this weekend to make the most of what I have left before the fall semester kicks off in earnest.

But of course, before that—a post. I have something of a whopper of an opinion piece for you today.

Quite recently, an article titled “9 Scientific Breakthroughs That Killed Science Fiction Subgenres”made the rounds in my social media circle. In it, the authors explain how the ineffable march of scientific progress has laid waste to various aspects of the genre. Their first specimen in this apparent charnel house of literary curiosities is the Martian adventure yarn.

As you might expect, that riled me up a bit.

To be fair, they’re not entirely wrong. As I lately cracked to an acquaintance, the Mariner and Venera missions were, in my opinion, the worst thing to ever happen to adventurous science fiction. After all, they gave us the first close looks at Mars and Venus, which were for many years the backdrop for numerous tales of interplanetary adventure.

Finding out, as humanity did, that Venus is a molten deathtrap and that Mars is a cold, arid wasteland put a bit of a damper on that. Publishers (and, perforce, writers) backed away from what had now become relegated to the realm of pure fantasy.

After the fact, the action-adventure type stories, when they did happen, seem to have moved off entirely to other worlds in star-systems either invented or so far from home we had little to no chance of disproving them. Of course, now with exoplanet research, that, too, may be a dying field of play—at least by the article’s measure of things, anyhow.

But therein lies the fault of the article, as I see it. The authors appear to assume that SF attracts readers simply and exclusively because its speculations are scientifically accurate. Taken to its logical extreme, this would mean that any story that becomes outdated by current knowledge can no longer be considered any good.

The rub is that not all of us came to SF for the crunchy bits, and they’re not necessarily why we stay. While I can’t speak definitively for anyone but myself, I can say that I have encountered numerous folks who, like me, seem to have come to it not for the facts and the data, but for the powerful sense of wonder and adventure the stories can inspire.

I may lose something approaching writer street cred for the admission, but my initiation into the genre came courtesy of cartoons. As a child in the 1980s, I loved three things: swords, space, and dinosaurs. (Dragons, too, but they lumped in with dinosaurs in a pretty satisfying way at that age.)

If a program on television had any of those things, I was likely to watch. If it had more than one or even all three, I was pretty much hooked. But this was not because I was interested in knowing how the spaceships worked, or why the dinosaurs were there, or why we could (seemingly inexplicably) have laser guns and broadswords in the same fight.

The appeal was rooted solidly in what those things signified: heroic adventure.

Watching such things, naturally, led to reading them, as it does in a house of readers. Or, rather, it led to attempting to read. This is not, however, an indictment of my family. Few, if any, of my relatives had a taste for science fiction beyond the occasional movie, and while my parents were and remain avid readers, they did not share my interests and could provide little guidance.

So I was mostly on my own. In the beginning, I struck up an easy relationship with fantasy. It was prolific enough that I had no trouble finding something at least mildly satisfying. But I was still in love with space, and I wanted my reading adventures to extend there as well.

When I asked others what they recommended, I was typically pointed to Hard SF, to my infinite frustration. I recall, for example, poring over Foundation, trying rather desperately to care, and eventually returning the book to the library unfinished with the sense that if science fiction overall tended to be like that, I’d had more than enough of it to suit me.

This isn’t because it was too “tough” for me or any nonsense like that, either. It simply did not tell the kind of story I’d fallen in love with, and all the galaxies and spaceships in the universe could not change the fact. So, after a number of disappointments along these lines, I gave it up.

That remained the way of things for a long time. It wasn’t until the latter part of high school, when I belatedly discovered the pulp Sword & Sorcery writers, that I blundered into much of anything SF-flavored that suited my tastes, and then it wasn’t until after college that I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books, which singlehandedly redeemed my faith in the whole affair.

Here was something I could sink my teeth into. Never mind that the whole setup was a fanciful anachronism of the highest order. Never mind I’d sat through enough astronomy class and done enough reading on my own to know that it was all very wrong and could never really happen. I adored it, in spite of the “wrongness” of it. Maybe even because of it. I went on the hunt for more things like it, and in time that opened up a whole new vista for me.

I speak, of course, of the space opera pulps.

I’ve seen folks speak ill of these old gems, and apparently even in their time they were reviled by certain sectors. In the name of fairness, I’ve read some real stinkers, myself. But by and large I wouldn’t trade my love of them. They’re heroic, they’re imaginative, and—yes—usually pretty unrealistic by most standards.

But the rationale behind the interplanetary adventure has never been, as far as I can tell, to intimately explore the laws of, say, astrophysics or such. I don’t fault readers who enjoy those kinds of stories, but I will say without apology that I could not possibly care less about them than I do.

What drew me to the idea of science fiction to begin with was the element of adventure. The idea of what if and not what is. That’s what ultimately drew me back, once I found a name for the kinds of things I liked. The pulps have that, even if they sometimes lack textbook-quality scientific rigor. They’re brazenly, unabashedly fun, and the best among them have a myth-like power, Mariner and Venera and Viking all be damned.

So when folks proclaim, as they do in the article, that certain subgenres have been killed deader than the dinosaurs, I wonder whether they haven’t missed the point.

Nobody’s going to try to convince folks that there really are canals and cities and needy princesses on Mars. It’s a little late for that. But there’s no shame in enjoying such things or in creating them, because the point of them has never been anything more than to tell a good story, to have fun in the telling, and to let others have fun in the sharing.

That much, at least, never gets too old.

On Knowing What You Don’t Know

Today finds me working on the fourth quarter of the Oath of Blood rewrite. I am about halfway finished with this part of the manuscript, and my goal for the end of the week is to have all of the fourth quarter of the story in that state.

As you might ascertain, I have solved my plot woes for the most part. Having done so, I’m now working my way backwards from the end, making sure things pan out as they should. That means, in some cases, yet another rework of earlier material, but that’s just part of the game. And as I’ve finally—finally—settled on the retool of the plot, it strikes me that I am over the worst of the bumps. It’s just a matter of applying the hands to the keys with consistency.

This can’t be entirely attributed to my own persistence, however. I have had a great deal of help from other people, and the solutions would not have presented themselves without that help.

Outside perspective seems to come up often in the discussion of indie writing, and for good reason. When an author chooses to pursue publication outside the realm of traditional publishing, he or she leaves the dedicated infrastructure of that world behind. Unfortunately, that seems to mean that critical aspects of the process sometimes get left out, especially when it comes to revising.

I suspect (hope) it doesn’t need to be said, but self-editing, running spell check a second time, and asking your friends for general input is not a revision. It might be a start, but it will never catch the major problems that afflict a narrative for several reasons.

First, you can’t see what you don’t know is there. In my case, I’ve had Oath in my head for over a year now, and I’ve had the characters in my head for much longer than that (the hero, in his very first incarnation, dates back to 2000). By now I’m so comfortable with the idea of both the characters and the story that a lot of things make a casual kind of sense to me that would never pass muster with a reader. So as a writer, I’m mostly blind to problems arising from these things.

Second, as much as we enjoy knowing someone likes our work, “I liked it!” isn’t helpful feedback in most cases. For a work to be at its best, you have to know the specifics of both what’s wrong with it and what’s right. Which parts really grab the reader’s attention? Which parts bog the reader down? What doesn’t make sense? What seems out of place? And—above all—why?

Third, proofreading is not the same thing as revising. While a solid copy edit is a must, even if your grammar, syntax, and such is perfect, if the content of the text isn’t what it should be, you haven’t eliminated the worst of your problems. They’re just…pretty problems.

No amount of self-justification or soliciting of thoughts from friends and family will help that—well, unless your friends and family are writers or editors and have no problems shredding your work, at any rate. The bottom line is that addressing these things requires an experienced and uncompromising outside reader who will pull no punches about what’s actually on the page and who will hang your darlings up by their heels and gut them without mercy.

As horrible as that sounds, it’s a good thing. Consider:

Back in the spring, I was very confident I had Oath of Blood nailed down. I was sure of myself and of my work—and to be fair to that earlier draft and to Me-Of-The-Past, it wasn’t really the most horrid thing ever written in the English language. But it did have more than its fair share of problems, and they were things I had never even imagined were problematic. They seemed solid and straightforward to me, but to others, they were confusing or disjointed or just flat-out wrong.

Once I knew this, though, I couldn’t let those issues pass by unaddressed, so the ongoing journey through Rewrite Hell began. I’ll cop to having been resentful at first—I mean, I made good grades in English. I’ve been to grad school (for English) and I made good grades there, too. People have always told me, “Hey, Lisa, you’re good at writing.” So how could my work have been problematic?

But I also tutor and proofread for a living, and I’ve had clients make the same protestations to me about work that was plainly troubled. So, in spite of my bruised ego, I (somehow) trusted my editor and outside readers and dug in.

As a result, Oath of Blood has shaped up to be a wholly different beast. It still features the same characters and carries the same general theme, but there have been major changes. The ending is very different, some characters’ fates are radically changed, and the plot is far more coherent. These changes, while they were hard to enact on account of my attachment to the earlier draft, make it much more the story I wanted to tell than the story I originally told could have ever been.

And it’s only because I have sought outside help that this has come to pass.

I cringe now to consider how things would have gone if I’d dashed off a couple of grammatical corrections, polished my word choice a bit, and called myself done. Yes, I would have completed the book “on time,” but in light of the experience I’ve had rewriting, I believe the end product would have been a heap of garbage.

Harsh? Maybe, but also true.

And the manuscript is not out of the woods yet. It may go to a trusted fellow writer in the near future and come back cut to ribbons. It may make it to my editor and experience a similar fate. But even so, if it does, that will be because it still needs more work, and I’ll not be shy about doing that work.

Cranky, perhaps, but not shy.

Distractions and an Upcoming Absence

There’s something to be said for solitude. Especially in the modern age, where digital distractions and the concept of being forever “connected” to work, to friends, to society at large in general, is more the rule than the exception. Don’t get me wrong: connectedness can be nice. The internet at large has enabled me to stay in touch with folks from whom I would have likely drifted were it not there, and it’s enabled me to connect with others whom I’d never have met in any other way.

But the fact remains that such always-on connectedness can be a millstone when the chips are down and the work at hand requires single-minded focus. This is something the past few months have taught me in the most visceral way.

When you discover that a revision is actually a rewrite, and when all your demons well up to “assist” in the process, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation to just ignore your work for a while. When that troublesome line—or paragraph—or chapter—is staring you in the face, refusing to relinquish its secrets despite all manner of threats, it’s easy to just go check your email for the twentieth time or to kill an hour or two on Facebook. You know—for the sake of networking or something.

So the problem is that all these “mini-breaks” have become a hindrance rather than a helpmeet.

Some folks a very good at ignoring distractions, setting them aside, buckling down, and Getting Shit Done. But for all my workaholic tendencies, I’m not one of those people. I never was in school—if it was hard or boring, I immediately lost interest in favor of what was fun or easy—and I’m still not as an adult. That’s unlikely to change at my age, I think.

But what I am, thank the various gods, is aware of this fact. That awareness wells up from time to time, driving me to isolate myself from contact with other people. If I’d been writing some decades ago, this would have been as simple as just stocking the larder, unplugging the telephone, and locking the front door. Just me and my beer and the agonizing potential of the empty page.

But even if I were to do the equivalent of that these days, there’s the ever-present temptation to just click over to the browser and avoid the work at hand.

As a result, early this week, a concept struck me that was so astoundingly simple as to have been easily missed. In my junk I have an old laptop, a ten-pound bruiser of a beast I took with me to college just under 15 years ago. Even after all these years and many adventures, it still works (though it seems to think it’s January of 1980—a clock battery problem). It also still retains a serviceable install of Word 2000, but technology is such now that although it theoretically could get online, my usual distractions there would never load, much less run comfortably.

So it struck me that working on Oath of Blood on The Beast was an incredibly solid idea. It took some wrestling to get things up and running—stripping The Beast of everything but what it needed to support Word, converting files to RTF so the old software could read them, transferring said files using a 3.5” floppy (I am a packrat; I still have some) because The Beast doesn’t support USB storage devices—but the thing was done. I immediately saw results. The simple removal of the temptation to dip over into my distractions was enough to force focus.

Still, the subtler distractions of the house made themselves evident in the absence of electronic diversions: the many books I want to read, the antics of the cats, the fact that my husband was in the next room and generally open to idle conversation. The latter, I think, is the hardest one.

Being married, as you might guess, is its own challenge, and even after nearly 5 years of it I’m still adjusting. I don’t in any way grudge my husband’s presence, but we’re both fairly intense people with intense interests. We also both have what are, at very best, irregular schedules. This leads to an environment where it’s tough to tack down a sustained work period where one is truly alone—something I could always rely on when I was single.

Though I haven’t asked him directly, I suspect it’s equally true for him. After all, I imagine it’s less than helpful to him when I go growling up and down the hall trying to unknot a problem while he pores over schematics that look, to my eyes, like lost leaves from the Necronomicon.

Under normal circumstances, I could work around this. However, I’ve reached the point with Oathwhere I need to eliminate even the most benign distractions or risk never finishing the thing. As a result, this weekend I began to cast about for isolation-friendly alternatives to the house, but running off to some temporary escape for a few days, be it a Walden-esque cabin in the woods or even just the local Motel 6, is a prohibitively expensive proposition.

Here providence of a sort seems to have intervened. I have a relative who is planning to depart tomorrow for a week-long vacation, and the offer was made to me that, if I needed an isolated place to set up camp, said relative’s house was available, as was the food in the refrigerator. The one catch was that I must bring my own beer and smoke outside—all in all not a bad trade.

As you might expect, I said yes. My husband, on whom falls the upkeep of the cats and the running of errands in my absence, was also amenable, so provided everything pans out, I’ll be headed that way tomorrow with my duffel bag and The Beast for a week of house-sitting. That means, of course, that I won’t be online in any capacity and won’t be available by phone except for absolute emergencies.

If that seems a bit extreme, well, it is. But it’s also something I’m able to do thanks to the generosity of others and a bit of cosmic serendipity. I doubt I’ll finish my rewrite of Oath completely in that time, but the isolated focus promises the opportunity to make the lion’s share of the progress that remains. Naturally, what I do with the time is up to me, but the fact that I have a means to dig in and seclude myself is a hopeful thing.

So here’s to productivity! See you all on the flipside, hopefully with a good bit of progress to report!

Depression and Other Unsexy Truths

So—I’m behind again. By this point, by my own assessment some weeks back, I should be edging up on 75% done with what is hopefully my penultimate draft for Oath. (Not final, mind you, since that would theoretically negate my editor’s feedback, which is not a polite thing to do.)

But in actuality I’m sitting here at about halfway, if you don’t count the spit-and-polish that’s coming at the end. This is, of course, frustrating. I like things to work out in an orderly way. I have this sense that, by the gods, if I make a deadline, it must happen. You’d think I would know better, but well, no.

A variety of things continue to affect this, and I’d prepared a long post about them last week, but in the end it seemed mostly like whining. So today, since I owe you all an update, I thought I’d touch briefly on them (but with less feeling) and explore how they’ve dug their claws into the process.

Now, I know Conventional Wisdom (and Google) suggests that writer blogs are supposed to be these perpetually upbeat things that tell everyone else out there how to Craft better or how to fix all those pesky problems that (apparently) Brock Bookowitz and/or Writerina McNovelface happen to be immune to. You know, golden advice from Writerly Experts and all that.

But I’ve never liked that kind of thing as much as I’ve liked to know what’s actually going on with the writers whose work I enjoy. Because I’m hopeful somebody will enjoy that same thing from me, I make it a point to be as transparent and honest about my own process as I can. Which is probably for the best, really: I’m not a very good liar when it comes to my own life.

So today, true believers, I’m posting about my old nemesis: Depression.

I try not to give Depression the time of day. He and I have a long history, and he has a tendency to crash parties to which he’s not invited, becoming the center of attention for weeks or months at a time, often with catastrophic results.

I don’t like to admit my depression exists. Who would? After all, it’s one of those things that isn’t easily explained even by someone who’s a long-time case (though Allie Brosh over at Hyperbole and a Half does what is probably the best job ever—see Part One and Part Two for maximum effect).

Since Oath was and remains very important to me, my process has included a massive effort to shore up my defenses against such a possibility. Nothing, by Crom, was going to get in and ruin this. Nothing was going to screw this up. Especially not that sneaky bastard Depression.

But of course, like the soul-sucking ninja that it is, my depression found a way to sneak in and wreak its usual havoc. I’m not even going to pretend I’m done wrestling with it, but by this point I can at least pinpoint its role in what has been a multi-month stall on a quick, brutal set of revisions.

I’m pretty sure it managed to slip past my defenses when my fatigue hit. The sheer exhaustion begat fear, and between them they set up a feedback loop of desolation in which everything sounded horrible, every idea was useless, and every attempt to improve the text looked like crap.

I tried to think my way out of it. I tried to write my way out of it. Lately I’ve tried to research my way out of it. But none of those things really seem to help, and it’s occurred to me that this is so because, at the root of everything, I’m sitting at the bottom of a funk.

It’s better than past funks, which I have spent as a disheveled, shambling shell of a human being barely capable of speech (not to mention work or school), but it’s there all the same. And the most insidious aspect of this fact is that it has sucked my enthusiasm for the work right out of my soul.

To make my point, I hit a stage early last week where I no longer cared about the manuscript, the characters, the story—any of it. You know, fuck them, because—well, fuck them.

(I know, I know: real mature.)

This commenced several days of just staring at the screen, despising everything about Oath of Blood, wishing I’d never started it to begin with. This is, of course, irrational.  I’ve put almost a year of my life into this thing, and by the time I’m completely done that mark will certainly have passed.

And if I really think hard about it, I of course do like my characters and the story with which I’ve chosen to torture them. I don’t think I would have hung onto it all this long if the frustration pointed to a real dissatisfaction with the project on the whole.

But the problem was (and to some degree remains) that I cannot find it in myself to care, at least not in the way that carried me before. I’m still working—mostly because I’m stubborn and because I have friends and potential readers who deserve a finished product that’s worth their time.

But functionally? Right now I feel like I have exactly no shits left to give.

Experience tells me this will change with time and effort, but since we’re being honest here (for good or for ill) such is the state of things in the moment.

All of this naturally leads to a sense that I have lost faith in myself, lost faith in the work, lost faith in the idea that the whole thing is worth doing. Another chain of irrational thoughts, yes, but they follow one right after the other, like cigarettes stubbed out in my ash tray, and they are relentless.

I don’t know if others experience the process in this way. Maybe I’m the only one. In any case, the fact remains that writing can be a lonely, desolate thing. You go through the wasteland of your own mind with precious little assistance, and some days, even the best of help isn’t enough.

If I were feeling up to being pithy, I would quip about how I can channel that to write better about being miserable and the existential woe of the human experience—you know, or something. But that’s just a yarn you spin if you want to make infuriating delays and blocks sound epic.

Translation: it’s a bluff. The reality is actually pretty unsexy. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone.

But stubbornly, the work continues, and as miserable as I think I feel right now, the hard hand of experience has taught me that I will be more miserable if I quit. Just about nothing in the world is worse than the ghost of a might-have-been. So—onward. But first I think I’ll top off my coffee.

Apologies, Deadlines, and (Finally) Some Progress

One of the purposes of this blog, at least from my perspective here, is helping me to both own and reflect on my process. Naturally, part of that process is dealing with mistakes, as you’ve seen if you’ve been reading along for even a few posts.

The one I’ll be talking about today is what we could call a problem of time-frame if we’re being diplomatic—or, if we’re not, we can call it issues of pride, overconfidence, and newbie stupidity. Take your pick: it all works out about the same.

A post or two back I mentioned that, until Oath of Blood, I’d never before endeavored to take a long work all the way through the process of editing and revisions. So when I went into the matter, I only had a vague idea of how long it would take.

Consequently, I set out some deadlines for myself and, thinking it would be a healthy motivator, made those public and even hinged a couple of local launch events on them. The first of those was supposed to happen tonight.

Unfortunately, as you can probably gather, that’s not going to be happening.

I sent out messages to that effect to everyone who’d indicated they were either interested in coming or would be coming to those events. Still, I’m feeling like a heel today (and rightly so) for having set those expectations and then failed them.

We could just chalk it up to a honest error or to “the process” or whatever, but I think that’s a cop-out. Instead, I think it’s more an issue of ignorance and pride, mixed with a hefty side of overconfidence.

Consequently, today’s post is an examination of that, an apology to everyone who had indicated they had an interest in those canceled events, and an update on where things stand right now.

The first thing that bears saying is that this is, without a doubt, my fault. I’m not going to blame fate or depression or the numinous process of revisions or anything like that. This is me. I set a deadline for myself, believed with utter honestly that I would meet that deadline, and fell flat on my face.

Now, granted, if I’d gone into my revisions with the knowledge base I have now, I might have been able to finish according to the timeline I set. But the fact remains that I did not. I only had a vague understanding of how the process would affect my ideal internal timeline, and I fumbled this one.

The second thing is that, because it’s my error, I owe anyone who intended to go to those events my unconditional apologies.  I set an expectation and failed to make good on it. I have quite possibly screwed up folks’ plans, cost them an evening off from work, or just plain let them down.

Although I sent out messages to such people letting them know what had happened, I still worry that some of them are going to show up at the predetermined venues, wait around on me a bit, and go home disappointed and angry. If they do, well, I’d say that’s their right.

For anybody to whom that applies, contact me. I will do my level best to make it right for you. 

Third, this is a lesson I intend to take fully to heart. It doesn’t undo any problems the current confusion may cause, but it has taught me a great deal about my own time needs, about setting expectations, and about the “public face” of this whole affair.

Initially, I think I had some erroneous belief to the effect of, If you set a deadline, things will fall into place. That is, of course, some bullshit. Deadlines are good, but they’re not magic. They’re also not helpful if they don’t take the actual time-frame of the process into account.

Which is, to be clear, something I should have known. But here we are, all the same.

And speaking of where we are, I do have some substantial updates for you.

This weekend I’m wrapping up final adjustments to the first act of the story (about the initial 25% of the text). As of now, I am on schedule to send the manuscript back to the editor in early August, as we appear to have broken whatever hold my structuring confusion had on me.

What this means is that while I am, yes, behind my initial schedule, things are moving again, and in a way that inclines itself to both improvement and relatively rapid completion. I say relatively rapid because things like this don’t happen overnight—but in the larger scheme of things, coming out of a three-month rut makes wrapping things up inside a month seem like FTL travel.

Naturally, when I’ve made the last keystroke, the manuscript is going back to the editor, and her schedule is such that she takes about a month. So provided my ability to meet this new deadline, I’m looking at knowing what last tweaks will need to be made by early September. With those adjustments made, we’ll be able to begin the layout process shortly thereafter.

But first things first.

And, again, my apologies.

In Which I Battle Writer’s Fatigue

I knew when I set out to tackle Oath of Blood that it would be a whole new experience, most notably because it would be my first finished novel-length work. Though I’d written a handful of (mostly awful) short stories and had been banging out longer yarns of varying degrees of awfulness off and on since junior high school, I’d never fully finished a novel.

Oh, I’d written novels before. I wrote one maybe a decade ago during a period of substantial downtime and threw it out in a fit of disgust shortly thereafter. Later I penned a duology: two Sword & Sorcery yarns, each about 55,000 words, that are currently sitting on my hard drive and in my cloud storage.

After a fashion, they’re done in that they start, have something approaching a substantive middle, and they end. But they’re also both deeply flawed and will need a thorough rewrite that they may, honestly, not be worth. I’ve also got about 80% of Bannerman of Mercury in a typescript in a box and the rest of it neatly synopsized. But it, too, has its issues, and it’s going to need a lot of love.

So, as I said: I’d written plenty, but I’d never finished one.

Still, at first glance that didn’t seem like a big deal. After all, I had a plan: I’d get advice. I’d hire an editor. And then, using the knowledge gained from such interactions, I’d fix any problems, shine up the text, and be ready to rock and roll. I had this thing figured out. But there was one thing I left out of the equation: the soul crushing fatigue that sets in toward the end of a long project.

Oath, as will be known to those who’ve followed its progress from the start, is edging toward its one-year anniversary as a work in progress. I first had the rough beginnings of the idea in July of 2012, and in August I drafted the initial plan for a 3-part arc. In September I started writingOath (then with another working title), the first volume, in earnest, and right at the New Year I finished the first novel-length rough draft of the thing.

At that point I sent it to some beta readers and an editor, and I had a few weeks off. That was beneficial for me, as I’d just lost my cat of a dozen years. As sappy as it might sound to those of you who aren’t animal lovers, it was a blow to me, and I needed some time to adjust to the loss.

But after that time was up, I got down to the dirty business of revisions. I worked doggedly through the rest of the winter and the early spring, went another editorial round—and realized I had a critical rewrite on my hands.

That was in April, and we’re into July now. With the exception of the short stints when the manuscript has been with betas or an editor, and excepting a 4-day vacation in May, I’ve been staring at it every day straight for fully 10 months, usually from 4-8 hours a day or more, depending on the constraints of my schedule at my day job.

Much of that time has been spent revising. Rewriting. Re-revising. Re-rewriting.

And—to be honest? I’m exhausted.

But I’ve also got a fair distance still to go before I’m done.

And that is the most disheartening feeling in the world.

For those who have written professionally a long time and who are acquainted with the game, I’m sure this comes as no shock. I don’t have any illusions that my situation is special, unless it’s just that I’m especially unskilled at the game. But it is a new experience for me all the same.

I’d thought, going into it, that elements of the process would in some ways resemble writing my graduate thesis. That document was submitted and accepted at around 30,000 words. It took me about 6 months to write, and anyone who knew me during that time knows what a mind-melting process it was. Many coffee mugs were hurled at the wall in frustration. I passed countless days shut up in the office in a disconnected haze, and I probably would never have emerged except that I had to go to campus to work.

But all that paid off in that, in the end, I was confident about the text, confident about what I had to say, ready to walk into my defense and slug it out and graduate. Which is how it came to pass, though it was more just nervous sweating in a suit than any kind of combat. There were no obstacles left at that point. I had, I discovered, slain all the monsters along the way, and mostly it was a nice chat and a thumbs-up—and then some of us went out to lunch and drank beer and that was that.

So inasmuch as I’d been through the crucible that way, I felt I had at least something of a grip on what we might call the industrial side of the writing process: get in, get to work, get through, get it done. Do that, and work like a dog, and the payoff follows inevitably—at least that was the idea. But somehow that hasn’t really transferred. Or, if it has, I haven’t felt it yet.

And again, if you’ve been playing the fiction game for a long time, this probably all sounds normal—that or I’m outing myself as a real hack.

In any case, right now I’m at that low point where, every time I look at the page, my blood pressure skyrockets (and not just because of all the chain-smoking). I stare at the text and I’m overwhelmed with how horrid it all is, and how I’m a piece-of-shit writer, and how I should have just kept on daydreaming instead of embarking on this hare-brained quest—and all this when the plot has never been more solid and the pacing has never been more on-target.

That’s why I know this thing is an illusion.

Granted, my fears about the quality of the text are sound, at least in their way.  I’m a hopeless perfectionist, and I’d like very much to be instantly awesome and up for whatever indie types can win instead of Hugos or Nebulas. And, of course, while I’m better than I was at 13 (thank the gods), I’m not there. And I want to be, not for the bauble or prize, but for the achievement it represents.

Still, at the end of the day, the whole “my work is a boiling cesspool of suck” thing is a phantasm, and I’ve danced with it before. It showed up at the end of my thesis. It’s showed up at all points in my life when it was time to cinch up the old war-girdle and fight on. At times, I’ve come apart and quit. At others, as with the thesis, I’ve pushed through and succeeded.

So I know I’m fighting ghosts. But the thing about ghosts is that they’re hard to beat—at least in conventional ways. At this point the only way I know is to push on in spite of them. But that is, naturally, easier said than done. It cultivates a certain exhaustion that drags at the soul, imparts a sense of things that says, “You will never be done. You will endure this doubt forever.”

That, too, is normal as I understand it. We’re never wholly done with anything, and what looks acceptable now might be a far cry from what would be acceptable ten years from now. Or, as it’s been the case with Oath, even six months out.

The real question, then, appears to be not When is it perfect?, but rather When is it good enough?

In the mainstream market, where one does the dance of agents and publishers and editors and such, there’s a way to know: it’s good enough when They say it is. When They accept it and pay you for it. In many ways, that’s like my graduate work. It was ready when my committee chair said it was ready, and that fact was confirmed when I got to graduate.

But indie is a different game. It’s in many ways only up to me to know when that moment is, and I’m a hard person to please when it comes to my own work. I always see what it could be, if only this—if only that. And I start to think that maybe that’s what’s dragged out the revisions process so long. That hard part is knowing which of those whispers is the writer’s instinct and which of them is the specter of treadmilling perfectionism. Which one is the ally? Which is the enemy?

As of just now, I don’t have an answer, but I’m tired enough to be ready to find one.

Panic & Whiskey: The Agony of the Rewrite

A curious thing happened on the way to the final draft of Oath of Blood. Back at the start of May, when I got the most recent set of markups back from my editor, she and I had a long conversation in which we identified a handful of problematic elements that, love them or hate them, were causing some difficulty with the plot. That’s not altogether unheard of—pretty common, actually, as I understand it—so I took the news in stride and set out looking for solutions.

Some things were easy fixes: something wasn’t clear, or my wording could be leaned up, or an extra bit of exposition was needed. Others took a little more surgery to clean up. And then there were the problem children: darlings that I needed to consider killing, scenes that turned out not to hold up under closer editorial scrutiny. They would require a good bit more work and time. But I had expected as much, so I accepted this, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work.

But as I said—a curious thing happened.

Just a little past halfway through May, I found that I was getting nowhere when wrestling with these bigger issues. I tore them down to the frame, re-sequenced them, even wholly rewrote some of them from the ground up, but nothing worked. I was still left with a sense that something waswrong with the narrative, though I couldn’t put a finger on what. It didn’t click in certain spots. The building tension jerked, shuddered, and stumbled in places. It was like an engine that rattles just enough to tell you something’s not right.

Sometime during the third week of May, instinct kicked in. My gut told me there were darlings hiding out in the narrative, sabotaging the plot. Pretty, pretty darlings. Darlings that had to die. So I went on a hunt, and I came out of my little safari with an incredible assortment of scenes, minor characters, and even two major linchpin events that defined the second half of the book. And every last one of them didn’t need to be there. Every last one of them, without exception, was dead weight.

So those pretty darlings died.

And at first I thought to myself, Hey, I’m in the clear now. The darlings have been addressed. The narrative should bob back to the surface all clean and clear. But—it didn’t. Something was still wrong. I prodded and poked and nudged the story line to see if I could discern the nature of the problem, but all I got was that vague sense of wrongness. And instead of being diminished in the absence of the darlings, it was stronger, louder, more demanding of my attention. It was as though the darlings had only been masking the problem’s true intensity.

Panic set in as a terrible truth hit me like a ton of bricks: there was something critically, fundamentally flawed in my narrative. Oath of Blood was broken—and I had no idea how to fix it. I didn’t even know what was wrong with it to begin with. My first instinct was to repair the problem by cutting. I had excised the darlings this way—so why not the larger problems? But as I considered the scope of what might have to go, I began to doubt my instincts. In that moment of book-saving doubt, I emailed my editor: Help me!

Which she did—and with considerable grace and aplomb, I might add. We got on the phone, and, after assessing the nature of the problem, she told me two things:

  1. You can fix this.
  2. You can’t fix it in the midst of a booze-and-cigarettes fueled panic. Take the weekend off.

Of course, she was right, so in spite of my twitching, half-mad desire to defeat the problem through sheer force of will, I did as I was told, and I spent the next two days on my sofa watching Netflix and playing video games.

Some fixes came to me after that, like bubbles slowly rising to the surface of still water, but the overall problem remained unsolved. So I sat and thought for most of a week, did some pay work, read some books I’d been putting off. And it chanced to occur to me that what might be wrong with Oath wasn’t so much content as it was structure. A light bulb came on then. If it was structural, I realized, it was something I could hack—provided I knew what the structure was supposed to be—which I thought I knew.

But it seemed I didn’t. Yes, I’d taken some very expensive classes at college and grad school, and I knew Freytag’s Pyramid and all of that, and I’d studied Lester Dent’s formula and pretty much thought I had my brain around that. I had read plenty in the genre, too, and I knew a good story when I read one. And I thought I had applied all that knowledge to Oath. But—clearly not. The problem, as it turned out, was me. My knowledge—or, better put, my lack of it—was preventing me from seeing the flaws in the narrative.

It was about this time that I recalled a conversation with Jeff Doten, my cover artist, in which he had mentioned the story structure advice on At the time, I’d not paid too much attention to the links and to Jeff’s glowing praise for the techniques the site advocates. I was smart, see, and that meant I could figure this out myself without help from anyone else, so help me Crom.

But that, of course, defies the cardinal rule of indie: You can’t do it all yourself.

So I spooned myself up a big plate of crow and finally hit the website Jeff had so assiduously recommended. Perhaps not surprisingly, my world was immediately turned on its head. In just a few short blog posts, the author over at Storyfix, Larry Brooks, pegged my problem, and it was a whopper: improper story structure, most likely caused by the way in which Oath of Blood was originally drafted.

Which is to say I wrote it by the seat of my pants with only a vague sense of where I started and where I wanted the story to end, and that the story had suffered for it ever since.

I didn’t want to believe that what I was seeing in Oath was the product of my own bad planning (non-planning, really), but there it was, plain as day, and once I’d seen it, I couldn’t un-see it. And most pointedly, my eyes lit on this one particular line:

If you use your drafts as exploratory vehicles for that purpose—a process some organic writers claim is the only way they can discover their stories—then you condemn them to a major rewrite.

I about fell out of my chair. This was me—for the third time now. Rewriting, replanning, reimagining the story in a blind attempt to make the pieces fit the way they’re supposed to. And after I’d read a little more, I began to see why this sort of thing condemns a story to the agony of the rewrite.

In short, there’s about only one effective base structure for all commercial fiction. One right answer to how the pieces fit together, how the action builds, what it builds toward, and where those things turn and shift. Trying to randomly hit that target without knowing where it is and what it looks like is a mathematical improbability of significant magnitude. In short, you’d have to be damned lucky.

And since clearly I hadn’t been lucky drafting Oath, I made up my mind to learn what I could about the structure Brooks advocates and see why my stuff wasn’t clicking. If I had a plan, I figured, I could work toward a solution.

It turns out to have been the smartest four days I have spent in the revisions process yet.

From the very start I began to see the problems. I understood why a good chunk of the mid-story fell flat, why the pacing toward the conclusion was jerky, why the ending didn’t satisfy. The knots and tangles presented themselves to be unsnarled. They stood out in astounding clarity where they had been hazy and numinous only days before.

Of course, this didn’t fix the problem. It only identified it. But as I began to carefully apply Brooks’ principles to what I currently had on paper, I began to understand specific needs. This part needs to establish deeper stakes for the reader. That section needs to show retreat rather than advance relative to the goal. This part should demonstrate the growing power of the antagonistic force.

And so on.

Viewed in that light, I saw why the current draft plagued me, and as I considered the gap between where scenes were and where they needed to be, solutions began to arise. A good many I sifted, bounced off of friends, and eventually threw out, but others stuck. They stuck gloriously, and this afternoon, just ahead of lunchtime, I slid the last of the major fixes into my outline.

All in all, I’ve got small tweaks to make in almost every chapter and somewhere around 5000 new words to write, scattered throughout the manuscript. It sounds like a lot—and it is, in its way—but it’s far less than I expected to have to do in terms of total volume.

Best and most phenomenally of all, though, the solutions really did arise that quickly. I started working with the Storyfix model on Monday. I’m sitting here at dinnertime on Thursday knowing that I have a sure deal to address the trouble that’s been afflicting Oath since its first draft.

And while I don’t expect that the actual process of the revision will be all gumdrops and roses—or that it will come as quickly as the outline level issues did—it’s much more approachable than it was back in May when I didn’t even know what kinds of answers I was looking for. That’s huge.

I’m not telling you to go out there, don your acolyte robes, and join the cult of Storyfix. Just—no. I don’t play that game. But I will say that the guy makes some very valid points, and I have no reason to doubt him. At least not after four days with his material fixed a problem that’s been dogging me since the start of spring (and maybe longer, considering how all my previous projects in bygone years stalled out about halfway in).

Rather, I’d say that whatever your source for it, you should learn story structure. Know it and understand it so that, whatever you write and however you write it (outline or organic), you know what your pacing and direction should look like from the start.

If I take no other lessons from my revisions to Oath than that, I firmly believe I will be a far better writer going into future projects. After all, when I consider now how different and simpler drafting Oath would have been if I’d known the structure model I’m now familiar with, I go half-mad. Months of aimless wandering could have been saved, never mind the sanity and the tab at the liquor store.

When I hit the next project, be it the ground-up rewrite of Bannerman of Mercury or the first draft of Oath of Blood’s sequel, this structure model is the first thing that will happen. Until all the pieces fit tightly, not a keystroke will be laid out on draft one, and there will be no rushing and blundering to plow through the words for the sake of “progress.”

I’m already imagining the panic and whiskey that will save me.

The Folly of Waiting on Destiny

When I’m up to my neck in work, as I am now with revisions for Oath of Blood, I find myself apt to lapse into fits of introspective nostalgia. Today it’s fond childhood memories of watching Sword & Sorcery movies on VHS and on late-night cable. It’s also memories of going to the used bookstore and finding the stacks of paperbacks that, thanks to the Sword & Sorcery boom that had come and gone in the ‘70s and ‘80s, fully opened up my interest in that genre.

For me, there’s little that can come close to the sense of unbridled excitement and wonder that came with discovering such things. Many pizzas were slain, many Mountain Dews quaffed, many a night spent till the wee hours of the morning engaged in the glorious ritual. I look back upon few things with as much fondness as I have for those times.

It of course followed, after so much viewing and reading, that I wanted to create my own worlds. And so I wrote. Since there were writers who made a living doing that kind of thing (or at least who had done it, back before people generally got tired of barbarians in fur diapers), it also stood to reason that I might have a chance at a career as well if I worked hard.

Which is all well and good—unless you screw it up like I did.

At some point I formed an image in my head of how things would go. The details were vague, as details in the plans of teenagers are wont to be, but essentially I would write awesomeness, find a publisher for it, and then commence a sexy adventure in which I spent the rest of my life immersed in both taking in and creating only what I wanted, homework and day jobs be damned.

Unrealistic expectations? Sure. But it was at least some kind of goal to shoot for and generally a more articulate statement of future intent than saying, “I guess I’ll go to college because that’s what you do.”

But somewhere, things stalled out. Maybe it was because I couldn’t fathom the distance between theory and execution, or because I was secretly afraid of failure, or because I went on to college because—hey, college: it’s what you do. Anyhow, the point is that while I envisioned this great writing adventure unfolding, it always remained just that: a vision.

Not a reality. Not even a plan-in-progress. Just a messy daydream that never got off the ground.

So why did I fail, for all my interest in the matter, to take the plunge? I’ve spent a long while pondering this, and in the end I feel I can really only attribute it to a simple and crippling error: I bought into the myth of the so-called writer’s destiny.

It’s an insidious little thing we may all encounter from time to time. Someone who adores our work (or maybe adores it because they adore us) slathers on the praise, tells us how good we are. They tell us we’re born to write and that we’re surely destined to be famous. And if someone else is not there to both dish out a reality check and to guide us, we may start to believe it. To feel it.

And that right there was the cardinal sin of teenage me.

Because I believed it was my immutable destiny to someday become a “real” writer (whatever that is), I felt I didn’t need to strike out on my own and slug it out, improving my skills and finding my niche. If I waited long enough, someone would recognize my genius and then swoop down and brain me with confirmation of the fact, opening up the pathway to greatness.

Except—they didn’t.

The years rolled on. Nothing happened. Hell, for most of them I didn’t even write. I was waiting, I told myself. It wasn’t my time yet. And when my patience with this was finally exhausted, I was no further along the path than I’d been at sixteen or seventeen. I had spent more than a dozen years waiting for the as-yet-unseen Writing Gods to bless me off and give me the sign, and in the meantime, I had done—absolutely nothing.

It came to me that if I’d been writing as hard as I’d been wishing all those years, I’d be phenomenally better. Probably published at least. Maybe even enjoying a little bit of that success I liked to imagine was fated to fall into my lap.

But I wasn’t. I was in a shit job and up to my eyes in crushing student debt. I felt like my life was an utter waste. And I realized in that moment that there is no such thing as a writer’s destiny. It’s a lie we tell ourselves when we don’t want to admit that the road is hard, the journey long.

If I could go back in time and beat one piece of sense into my own adolescent skull, it would be that there is no such thing as a born writer, a destined writer, an inevitable writer. There are stubborn ones, and hardworking ones, and—yes—occasionally lucky ones. But even the luckiest writers have a foundation to stand on, and you don’t get that hanging out, waiting for the action to come to you.

I still kick myself for those squandered years. I think of the enthusiasm that I had for the task as a kid, and then I think of all the years I sat with my thumbs in dark, damp places waiting for—I don’t even know what. I think of my current work, and I feel like there’s a million miles between the energy of then and the dogged persistence of now. I think, too, of what I wouldn’t give to bridge that gap. To have that spark back. To assail the page with youthful exuberance.

But those dozen years are an irredeemable loss. They are gone. Ash and dust on the wind.

And bearing that in mind, I say this to anyone who’s at that same crossroads that confronted me:

Don’t buy into the myth of waiting on your destiny. Avoid it at all costs. If you spend your time waiting for the holy heralds to come, you will wait forever. The road lies open, but you have to set out for yourself. No one will take your hand and coax you. No one will make it easy.

If you want to be a writer, sit your ass down and write. Write like hell and don’t stop.

Everything—everything—else is just set dressing.

Thoughts on “Respectable” Work

This week marked the tenth anniversary of my graduation from the University of Texas. Like all anniversaries, this one has provided me with the opportunity to reflect upon choices I have made, how they have influenced my life, and what value I have extracted from them.

In the main, such discussions, which I have had with everyone from my husband (while walking through the grocery store) to writers from other continents (via the internet) have centered around one clear idea: others’ expectations versus individual dreams and goals. Though I often want to imagine that I am the only one who’s been thus scrutinized, it turns out that there are quite a few folks who struggle with the age old battle of pressure—whether from family, friends, or society in general—to do something “respectable” rather than what truly moves them.

So today, because I owe you a blog post, my loyal horde, and because it’s important, I give you some thoughts on just that.

“When are you going to get a real job?”

“You can’t be serious. I mean, what are you going to do with your degree?”

“That’s nice, but what do you really plan to do with the rest of your life?”

“You know, nobody really makes it writing. Why not be a teacher or maybe an insurance agent?”

I’ve heard all of these before. Every one of them, in some form or another, has been directed at me regarding the (apparently) controversial and public topic of my pursuit of writing as a career goal. Yet they’re not unique to me, and they aren’t unique to writing, either.

What they are, however, is full of shit.

When someone says to me, “Say, Lisa, now that you have that Master’s degree, when are you going to…y’know…go get a real job?” they’re telling me that I embarrass them. I have this damn fool graduate degree that I haven’t used and that cost me too much money, and that’s nice to them—they can brag about it. But the fact that I do whatever work presents itself in the meantime to pay the bills while I focus on my writing rather than chasing an unfulfilling career elsewhere means they can’t use me in conversation the way they want. They’d feel better if I would just go do—whatever—as long as it wouldn’t make them uncomfortable.

But these are the same people who have never supported me in anything I’ve done that wasn’t staid, conventional, and time-testedly boring. I have told them, both in so many words and in nicer ways, to go fuck themselves. They have spluttered and flushed and let the rage they want to spew bulge in their eyes, and I have invited them to kiss my ass.

This has been profoundly liberating, because they are people, not gods, and while they may make much noise, they cannot hurl down the thunder. The worst they can do is remove themselves from my life, and even then, considering how they act—what is the loss in that?

I say all this because I dedicated a dozen years to making people happy. I did as I was expected to do, and I reaped the rewards of debt, misery, and a loss of sense of self.

If you are committed to what you are doing, be it writing, art, or anything else that moves you, do not fall into the trap of craving the acceptance of others. The cup will never be full, no matter how much blood you let into it, and you may rest assured that the hungry imps of disapproval will bleed you dry. Turn the cup over, walk away, be the master of your own fate.

Should you yet feel the sting of those poisonous little doubts that they have introduced regarding whether your goal can be important even when half the world thinks it’s not “real” or “respectable,” consider this example:

One of my favorite writers, Robert E. Howard, often faced this scrutiny. He lived and worked in a tiny Texas oil and ranching town (which really has got no bigger in the intervening decades) in the 1920s and 1930s, and most folks gave him a hard time because he wasn’t doing “honest” work. But  it’s said Howard made more selling his stories to the pulps than the town bank president’s salary, and in the heart of the Great Depression he was able to buy a car with cash money. Still, people harassed him for not doing “real” jobs or “respectable” work.

He tried many. If my memory serves, he worked for a soda fountain, for a department store, for a laundry service, even. He went to business college on his father’s insistence. But Howard persisted at writing, and he broke in—and stayed writing for the rest of his life. And though he died too soon at 30 by his own hand, in the years he did write, he created some of the most memorable characters Fantasy, and specifically Sword & Sorcery, has ever known, Conan the Barbarian among them.

I don’t think Howard ever really knew the impact he had on others, but there are countless writers who owe their inspiration to him and claim him as the fountainhead of their lineage. He had a real and lasting impact, and though many might have faulted him for his chosen vocation, he rose above them.

Maybe none of us will become a modern-day Robert E. Howard, but we can follow his example and rise above those who condemn our efforts. You can be the master of your fate, the captain of your soul.

Do so. And should anyone give you the least bit of a hard time, tell them to go to hell.