The What-If and Why-Not-Me monsters are out in full-force tonight

Or “I should really be getting some sleep, but drowsy medications (save for Nyquil) have the opposite effect on me,” with just a dash of “I feel guilty for what I perceive as neglecting my writing, and Misadventures in Fiction.”

Let me start by getting this out of the way: I do not handle being sick well at all. I’m a total wimp about illness. Case in point? I have an upper respiratory infection, but my behavior suggests a diagnosis of Ebola, primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM for short. Google it, and be amazed/horrified.), and a dash of bird-swine-fish flu for good measure. I can’t stress enough how I should probably be sleeping right now.

There’s a murky, unpleasant place in my mind, full of generally unpleasant things. Most people have similar places somewhere in their thoughts (I’m fairly confident in this statement, anyway). On nights like this, some of its denizens–covered in sharp spines, and equipped with sharp claws and rotten, twisted fangs–creep out and torment me. There are plenty of different variations on these wee mental beasties.

The What-If and Why-Not-Me Monsters are particularly unruly, and tend to rear their ugly heads when I’m questioning myself. When I’m questioning the value of my work, either as a writer or in my day-job, and why I can’t seem to do better.

“But Phil, that’s both self-destructive AND counterproductive,” you might say out of concern. Trust me. I’m very well aware of how completely unhelpful these mindsets are, and so this is me trying to tackle them in a way that makes sense to me. Keep in mind, however, that me being able to see how those nasty monsters aren’t helpful to me in any way and being able to completely rid myself of them are two very different things, and I’m only addressing the former here. They’ve got hiding places, deep in my darker thoughts, and I don’t know if they can be properly extricated.

This next bit may be a bit of a shock to some of you, but I dream of writing for a living some day. I completely understand if any of you lovely readers need to take a moment, walk away, and process this shocking news. Doing better? Fantastic. Now, this business of being a writer for a living is nebulous and difficult, and it evades me quite expertly. On one hand, I’m getting a lot better at making sure I write. I write frequently, and when I’m not writing I’m almost always conjuring up ideas.

Okay. Maybe not conjuring, because that makes the process sound a lot less messy than it is. More likely, I’m stumbling into ideas that sound good, and may or may not eventually receive attention.

The What-If and Why-Not-Me monsters come into play around this point. What if, Phil, you post the just-right story at the just-right time, and the just-right person happens upon it and decides your writing deserves to reach a broader audience? What if you were to become a cult-famous…no, semi-famous…no, famous writer? What if you could just drop everything else and just write until your fingers flew off like that one travel planning commercial (I’m too lazy to Google it right now, and I’m not even a little sorry)? Why can’t you get to that point? Why can’t you manage to get published? Why can’t you just be good enough?

Those monsters come crawling out, their bellies scraping against other thoughts and jumbling them up in a mess of mayhem, and I usually end up turning into a world-class, grade A grump as a result. I cannot function in this state, and usually instead opt to take naps or consider enjoying drinks of the alcoholic persuasion, only to end up not bothering.

I’m fairly certain (read as: I could go back and check, but that’s on the list of things I’m not going to do) I’ve written about the troubles of comparing myself to others. I’ve had many fingers wagged in my general direction for looking at another writer, or other writers, and wondering why I’ve not yet found their level(s) of success. It leaves a bit of a nasty taste in my mouth, and that nasty taste draws the monsters out in even greater force.

Let’s go back to publishing. I’m technically published in three places. One is a forthcoming anthology of short stories (I’m not revealing much yet, and I’m waiting very impatiently). Another is my Wreck-It Ralph review over at Onezumiverse. The third is an extended nonfiction piece about swords and modern-day samurai (of sorts), which is only really accessible to people taking the Advanced Nonfiction course at Edinboro University. I have a modest-enough stack of rejections, but not nearly as many as I should have by this point in my life. I mean that in the sense I should have taken more chances, and yet I haven’t. My brain just sort of curls in on itself and says “Well, how do I do this? What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I fix that?” and so on. I’m not writing to be famous (my delusions of grandeur typically focus more on world domination). I’m not even writing to be semi-famous. However, would I pass up having a sizable readership? Hell no.

That’s where I find myself struggling as well. On one hand, I know I have moderately decent writing skills. That sounded a lot less like some sort of self-congratulatory gesture in my head, I’ll admit. There’s a piece of very expensive paper somewhere in Carnegie, and I earned that by growing as a writer, as well as someone who enjoys whiskey far too much (and being a sort of writer stereotype, I guess). Not a bit of that matters if I can’t seem to find the right places to send the right pieces of my work at the right time, and I pawned my crystal ball for money to buy a bottle of Jack quite some time ago. I realize it’s not all about having the perfect luck in all of those areas, but there are days it feels like it.

There are times I find myself enjoying a blend of confidence and motivation that make me feel like some previously undiscovered God in an amazing pantheon nobody bothered to mention. Nights like this, however, don’t fit that bill. On the plus side, I can typically round up the monsters before they can really get started on a proper rampage, and I’m good to go for a bit. Like I’ve said before: I couldn’t stop writing, not even if I wanted to, because all of the characters would come together and start a revolution. Worlds would come tumbling out of my head, spilling all over the place and making a rather sizable mess. If nothing else, I’ll be happy if I can avoid becoming jaded about the writing process, which is a fear I keep stashed away for rainy day gloomery.

I’ll end by asking this: what sorts of monsters come slinking out of the darker thoughts in your minds, readers, and how do you deal with the nasty shit they’re intent on telling you? Supply your own suitably witty ending. Now that the beasts are caged up, I think I may just be able to find some shut-eye.

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