This is not (just) a post about writing, but it will seem to be at the beginning. Bear with me.
I tend to get a little nettled when people tell me how fast John Ringo writes. No, it’s not that I don’t like John or his writing – so put your heckles down, Ringo fans – it’s that I keep thinking “Hey, I once wrote a novel in three days” (Not an experience I wish to repeat, no.) I have finished two novels in a month. I have—
I have fallen into six months of silence and this year the silences have overwhelmed the productive types. These are weird silences. They’re not, as you’d expect, “I’m sitting here and not writing.” They’re not even exactly block – block in me more often than not is writing hundreds of the same page, with two commas changing back and forth and a couple of adjustments to wording.
What I mean is block in me is active.
These silences – and this year has been the worst for it – tend to be I’m sitting at the computer, and time seems to woosh past me, and nothing gets done. It’s like the monks of time are playing with the procrastinators and borrowing all my time away.
There are other symptoms: a reluctance to write/think/speak in words. This is very weird because I remember thinking in words from about two. I don’t really have a brain mode beyond verbal. My younger son tells me he thinks in images. Whatever. I can’t. So what you get if there are no words, if the words somehow “hurt” is this dumb, reflexive reaction that would make the behaviorists happy. I have been spending weeks in this state. Even reading “hurts.”
I don’t think it’s block, not as such. As I said my block is different.
When I’ve complained of this state before, I get well-intentioned people – mostly on FB – either “giving” me ideas or telling me how to figure out where the book is going next.
That is not the problem at all. I know exactly where both Through Fire and Darkship Revenge go. At this point I know all the movements. What seems to be lacking… If you visualize words as stones, I’m rolling these stones upslope, one by one. And even though they don’t roll back, it takes very few to tire me out.
No, this is not a long sustained whine. I’ve been trying to figure the mechanics of the silences and what they are for some years.
Because look – and this is the part that applies to everyone, not just writers – we live highly unnatural WORK lives. Oh, everyone has, yes, since the agricultural revolution. We’re designed for short bursts of activity and then days of semi-hibernation till the next burst. That’s what humans used to do for much longer than we’ve had this “workaday” world.
But even if you go back to agricultural days – fact is you don’t need an awful lot of mental acuity to work the land, or to work the line, or anything until you get to these jobs most of us here do, where the main instrument of our work is the brain. Even in the depths of the silent, I can do things like non-fiction articles about things I know really well. Because that’s more or less by rote. The words still hurt, but not as much.
And I can clean, and I can organize, and I can even sew.
But create? The strength (why should strength be needed to write imaginary events? I don’t know, but it is) just isn’t there.
And here’s there thing – I’ve always had silences (though the “can’t think in words” is new) that lasted a month or two. This is what accounts for my house not looking like something out of hoarders. I used to work full tilt for three months or so, and then crash mentally for a month, which I used to disturb all the spiders and hunt the dust bunnies in their preserves behind the furniture.
I’ve always worried about their nature too. Are they a form of block? Or are they like my younger kid’s computer which was shutting down because one of the fans wasn’t working, and when it hit 95 degrees it shut in self-preservation?
Because if it’s just a form of block, I can power through. But what if it isn’t. Every time this year I pushed through, I got ill. Really ill.
There’s no denying we drive our minds into highly unnatural acts, month after month, year after year, and perhaps the shut down trigger gets sensitive. Maybe it shuts down earlier/longer.
This is important, because, of course, Atlas is juggling and it’s entirely possible that us few – we few, we lucky few, we band of strivers – who are still over 100% employed are keeping the entire thing going. And we’re taking more duties.
But if that causes us to shut down, then what do we do?
I don’t know. I know I wish this entire situation had come about oh, twenty years ago, when I had more energy. But did I really, or was it an artifact of not having this much to do?
I know part of the way I feel is just stress, because the only thing these silences resemble is the silence when my publications-not-Baen were spiraling down the drain and I didn’t know about indie.
This time the stress is not just the work – I know, I know, between editing, publishing and new writing I’m full up – but other stuff. Personal stuff, family stuff, family health stuff, extended family stuff, and the continuous break down of house stuff this year has visited upon us (which in turn does what it does for financial stuff.)
And I’m a worrier, of course. I always worry three steps ahead, which of course has kept me alive many times, but is a pain.
And I know the stress is counterproductive, but how do you deal with it? I need to find a way to stop spinning in place through the silences. I need to work, if not at my peak capacity, at least at a book a month. The stories are there, mind, stacked ten deep, waiting. Because even through the silence new ideas and new novels form.
We, all of us, need to find a way to keep the top spinning, if we are to survive what’s headed for us. (If you haven’t read Vodka Pundit’s Monday morning dose of doom and gloom, all you need to know is that I agree with him when he recommends bourbon for breakfast. Only I can’t. I have work to do.)
Right now, what I’m trying to do is power through Through Fire – and it would help, truly, if it were a SLIGHTLY less intense book, yes – and then Darkship Revenge – which unfortunately is also an extremely intense book – before the end of the month.
This means… I don’t know. I’ll probably be running guests on the weekend, so if you ever dreamed of your very own star slot on ATH, this is your chance 😛
And I shall be twisting the boys arms to help. And if you’re trying to get something out of me that’s not related to those two novels, you have to keep poking, because it WILL fall out of my head.
… and I’ll report my wordage here, at the end of each post, but only wordage on the novels.
And I’ll report if this breaks me. I guess if I get really ill, the silence was real.
I just wish I had some way to tell in advance. And I wish I knew how to keep Atlas Juggling.