The brick walls

“The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” -Randy Pausch

I came across this quote at Zen Pencils today, and it was just in time.

I’ve been dealing with some hurdles in the publishing process. I wanted to be coming to you with a release date by now, a date which I hoped would be very soon. That might still happen, but it’s coming down to the wire. I’m struggling to scale the wall, and I don’t know when I’ll make it.

But I will. The wall is there to stop other people. It will not stop me.

Impostor syndrome

Some creatives suffer from Impostor Syndrome. It’s a very real problem, and it’s always fascinated me, because I have no trouble with it at all.

Neil Gaiman, in the commencement speech which I reference frequently, said:

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.

In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don’t know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don’t have to make things up any more.

It’s different for me. I prefer to act the impostor. If I had taken the “proper” route to becoming an author, I probably wouldn’t be set to publish a book right now, because there are a thousand hoops I would have had to jump through. Instead, I ignored them all.

Act as if is something I learned from my older brother, and there’s comfort in it. When you act the impostor, it doesn’t matter who you are—all that matters is what you do. It’s all an act, it’s all a scam, and the trick is not in deserving it, but in keeping it going for as long as possible. You don’t need to get the credentials to do what you want to love. You just do it.

A world of black and white is scary to me. I’d rather dance in the grays. I’d rather have the flexibility to do what I want to do, rather than jump through hoops to “deserve it”. We’re all getting away with something, no matter what kind of success we have. Shaming ourselves for not deserving it is madness.

If the man with the clipboard ever comes to my door, I’ll flip him the bird, run away, and try again. Because the impostor is never totally beat—there’s only the next game.

I’m back!

After a long (but fun) month of traveling abroad, Stilts it back.

I’m not going to bore you with the details about my trips, because that’s not why I’m here. I did have a few particularly insightful experiences that you’ll hear about shortly, but after that it will be back to business as usual.

Expect more activity in the next few days, along with a small blog-related announcement. (Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad.) After that will be the final sprint to publishing my first book, which will hopefully happen before the end of the year.

I’ll keep you all updated, but for now I’ll only say this: holy crap, I’m behind on everything, gah!

Vacation, & a taste of what’s to come

September is going to be a busy month. Rather than sitting around, writing about anime, preparing the season preview, and finishing my book, I’m going to try to do all of those really fast, because Stilts is going on vacation!

I’ve got two overseas trips planned, one for work (blegh), and one for fun (yay!). If any of you happen to be in Munich at the end of the month, and you happen to see a ridiculously tall blond man at Oktoberfest yammering about something nerdy and drunk, that might be me! Ditto to several nearby cities. I’ll be getting around, in the best of ways.

That means you shouldn’t expect to hear from me until roughly October. My posts at RandomC will be covered by my fellow writers (<3 everyone, you rock!), but this field will lay fallow for the duration.

I didn’t want to leave you without a little something though, so I have a tasty morsel to present. Remember that book I’m always talking about? The one that’s coming together at glacial speed? Well it’s almost done, and since the core story isn’t liable to change much at this point, I’m ready to start releasing intriguing tidbits to my hungry public. All three of you. (Predictable joke, I know.)

One of my mentors taught me that a crucial skill to being successful as a writer is being able to succinctly describe what your story is about; to develop a good elevator speech, so you can grab potential readers’ attention, and so readers can decide whether they want to know more.

I present to you the elevator speech for my book. This is like the back-of-the-book blurb, but shorter. Here it is:

The book is called Wage Slave Rebellion, and it’s an urban fantasy adventure set in a sword & sorcery world. It’s about three friends who hate their crappy jobs, so they decide to become monster-slaying adventurers instead. It’s kind of like Terry Pratchett spliced with a badass action anime.

That’s what I’ve been working on! It’s the first in a series, though I think I’ll save the unveiling of the series’ name for a little longer. Are you excited? I know I am. Or sick. Oh gods, I hope this works…

Feel free to give me your thoughts on the trip or the elevator speech. I re-enabled comments on this post. I’m considering opening them across the site again, so feel free to give me feedback on that as well.

Just don’t expect me to respond too quickly. To the wild blue yonder I go!

Private accountability

In my ongoing battle for productivity, let me tell you about my latest weapon.

A few months ago, I told you about Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret about not breaking the chain. After that I began publicly tracking how long my “chains” were, but I stopped doing that a while ago. Why?

Because even though I’m not published yet, and am therefore not a professional, I prefer to act like I’m one, and I feel that constantly talking about how much I am (or am not) getting done is unprofessional. You just want to know a release date, right? So I stopped doing it. Or rather, I stopped telling you about it – I still write every single day, and my current chain is pretty long.

Back before that I tried another method of public accountability, giving myself public challenges and then updating you on how I did. Those were more effective because there was a clear win/lose result, but it still felt unprofessional to me. Professionals shouldn’t air their dirty laundry, they should just get it done.

So here’s what I’m doing now. I’ve think that the best accountability systems involve two different kinds of accountability: 1) social and 2) monetary or public. Since I feel like public accountability is unprofessional, I’m tapping into the other two.

I talked to my editor, and in exchange for keeping him accountable for his own business, I’m setting goals every week and having him take me to task if I miss them. That’s the social accountability, because if I screw up I now have to explain to him why I suck. It also gives me a specific goal, which is more effective than the nebulous “write every day”. As for monetary, right now I’m using the possibility of a monetary punishment being added to motivate me, but if I fail two or three times, I’ll start actually paying my editor every time I screw up.

So far the results have been great. I feel the whip at my back, but not in a bad way – I have a deadline, which is great for my personality, but the setup feels more professional to me since you all would have never heard about if I hadn’t gone out of my way to tell you. I’m getting a lot done, and having more fun too! If I can keep this up, I’ll get this book finished far faster than my recent (and frankly deplorable) pace would have allowed.

Do you know why some people think they “need” a job? Because bosses keep you accountable. And they do, but they’re not the only way. You can throw off the mandatory accountability system and replace it with one of your own choosing, so you can get just as much done (or more!) when it suits you best. I much prefer that, provided I can find one that works for me.

Hopefully this is it. If not, I’ll update you when I find it. It’s an ongoing battle.

Ashamed

I look forward to being ashamed of my first book.

Not because I think it will be bad. I am ridiculously proud I’ve what I’ve done so far, and will be even more so when it’s ready for you all to see.

No, it’s because I’ve read many a writer’s first book, and then their later books, and I know how vast the difference can be.

I will be ashamed of my first book when I have ten others, and when they’re far better than the one I’m working on now. That will mean I’ve made progress. That will mean I’ll have gotten better. That will mean I’ll be able to give you even better stories as time goes on.

I look forward to being ashamed of my first book, well into the future when I’ve learned ways I could have made my first so much better. But what I’ll never be ashamed of is that I wrote it. You have to write one to write ten, and finishing something extremely difficult is a feeling I cannot adequately describe.

It’s worth the effort, and I’ll never be ashamed of that.

Personifying your muse

Now that I’ve just finished telling you that your muse is a lie, let’s talk about my muse, shall we?

No, I’m not backtracking on what I said before. Muses do not exist, and it’s vital to constantly remember that in order to avoid surrendering responsibility for your productivity. It is useful to define the environment in which you are best able to be creative though, and we humans are much better at responding to stories than lists of facts. So I’ll describe my “muse” as I understand it, and then translate that into prescriptions for myself.

My muse is greedy and selfish. I have trouble writing or editing if I have to fit it into whatever free time I have. I work best when I can devout vast tracts of time to my writing. If I have an hour, I’ll waste time, run out the clock, and get very little done, but if I have four hours, I’ll write well.

The twisted part? If I have four hours, I may only write for an hour anyway. I can’t seem to rush my muse, but when I have plenty of time, sometimes it’ll rush itself. I guess my muse is bad under pressure too.

My muse is possessive. Mental domination is the name of the game. The more I multitask, the worse I do, but when I can give my whole mind to the story – when I’m thinking about it, preparing for it, and looking forward to it even when I’m not writing – then I do well.

My muse is consistent. You could call it business-like. I can sit down and write every day without waiting for the “mood” to strike, and I’m better the more consistently I write. I like to think of it like Miyanaga Teru’s ability from Saki. The first day in a chain might be slow, but the longer I go, the higher my score gets, until eventually the momentum becomes crushing.

My muse is stodgy, but also flexible. It prefers to write in the same place every day, but when I’m out of town, I can write there too. I just need some peace and quiet, and to be away from people and distractions. I guess my muse is antisocial as well.

Finally, my muse is incapable of dreaming small. If most people decided they wanted to start blogging, they would have started their own blog first, but no, I went for Random Curiosity right off the bat. I probably should have started with short stories as well, but no, I had to start with a novel, and the first in a series to boot. My muse dreams big.

Can you picture my muse? Greedy, selfish, possessive, hates to be rushed, consistent, stodgy, flexible, antisocial, and loves to dream big. Can you see it?

My muse is a lie. Those are facets of me, and the environment I need to give myself to create well. I need to give myself plenty of time, even if I don’t use it. I need to think about my story a lot, and only focus on one at a time. I need to write every day. I need to write without distraction. I need to dream big.

The more I learn about my muse, the more I realize it’s just me. That’s the creative Stilts.

What’s your creative you like?

Realism, cynicism, & the unreasonable man

For a long time I considered myself a realist. My parents were pragmatic people, and I inherited the trait from them. Not only that, I took pride in it. While others were illogical, I aimed to be realistic. I focused on what mattered.

Until one day, after a long journey, when I realized the problem with realism.

Do you want to know what a realist is? Really?

A realist is a cynic who doesn’t want to admit it.

There’s a famous quote, of which I’m sure you’ve heard. It says:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” – George Bernard Shaw

The realist–that is, the cynic is the reasonable man, the one who sees the world as it is and adapts himself to it. I’ll grant you that the cynic may be right – people may truly be motivated primarily by self-interest. But is that truth helpful? Is that truth useful?

As I’ve grown older, I’ve made the rare trip towards optimism. Not because it’s right, but because it’s useful, and because if I were to choose between the reasonable man and the unreasonable man, I want to be the unreasonable man. I want to shape the world to my purposes, rather than be shaped by it.

I retain some of my parent’s “realism”, and I put it to good use, for the unreasonable man who can’t see practicalities is surely doomed. Yet when the cynic inside me says I can’t do something, I tell him to shut the hell up.

Maybe he’s right. Maybe I can’t do it. Maybe it’s impossible.

But I won’t know until I try.

Give me that unreasonable man any day of the week. Or better yet, watch as I become him. Then I’ll show you the world I want to live in.

I’m that guy

There was a time when I would hear about famous authors, people like Stephen King, and how they would go home after a full day of work, and they would write.

I didn’t understand how they could do that. I couldn’t imagine it, couldn’t fathom how they could work more after their full-time jobs, how they were able to keep going if they never had a break

Now, I’m that guy, and I enjoy it.

Oh, how the times change, and we with them.

My combo counter: 27 days.

I can quit anytime, so I don’t have to

“He’d fooled them all, even her. But the good bit was that he could go on doing it, he didn’t have to stop. All he had to do was remind himself, every few months, that he could quit anytime. Provided he knew he could, he’d never have to.” – Moist Von Lipwig, Going Postal

I could quit writing right now if I wanted to. I could stop everything I’m doing, I could leave it all unfinished, and I could disappear. I could abandon everything and never write another word in my entire life.

And because I can, I never will.

No one is telling me to do this, no boss is yelling at me that it must be done. I choose to write, each and every day. To some people this may seem daunting, but I find it immensely liberating. It’s not easy, but I chose it. This is mine! This is the path I have chosen!

Pardon the self indulgence, but I thought I’d give you some insight into my mind. I will do unpleasant, difficult, even back-breaking things if I choose to, but if you tell me I have to, I will fight you. Fortunately, no one is telling me to do this. It’s my choice, and nothing can take that away from me.

My combo counter: Editing chain, 19 days. Writing chain, 2 day.