Judge the writing by the writing, not by what you know — or think you know — about the writer.
How long have I been saying that now? At least since I first joined a peer-review site and decided that I ought to put something in my bio there. (My brother’s bio was a lot cooler; his just said “Weaver’s clone-sibling.”)
So, the reason for this blog post at this time…
A little while ago I narrowly avoided posting to a forum thread something that was 1) not quite relevant to the topic being discussed, 2) possibly oversharing, and 3) definitely not something that should ever be thrown at a newbie to the site who could be scared away easily. And the ironic thing is that what I’d typed and then deleted was about my fear of oversharing, or rather, my fear of sharing at all.
I can share my writing with strangers, I’d typed there, but I cannot share my self without experiencing a lot of anxiety. The words I pour onto the screen are a misdirection: Look over here, pay no attention to the man behind the keyboard, and don’t ever ask how he knows how to write about some of the things that crop up in his stories.
I’ve had a lot of things happen lately that have set off that fear. A few days ago, I made a comment in passing during a discussion about writing and how long some of us in the conversation had been working on particular projects. I said that I’d been working on one of my current works-in-progress since 1992. But, as I then explained, I had stopped writing entirely for about a decade and only recently started up again, so maybe the time spent on that story should be counted as a lot less. “PTSD is a b!#ch,” I added.
Yeah. I said that. I feel good about being able to say it, too. I wasn’t making excuses, or trying to get anyone to feel sorry for me (which, honestly, always makes things worse) — I just wanted to make sure they understood that my not writing for a long time wasn’t because I was lazy or unwilling to work on the novel. So I guess it was fear that made me overcome my fear; I didn’t notice how I felt about anyone knowing about the PTSD thing because I was much more concerned that I not be seen as a slacker or wannabe.
(I’m being bad, occasionally looking at Twitter on another window while writing this. And look, someone has just tweeted something that’s a little bit relevant to the topic of this blog-blather. Author Brian Rathbone tweets, “The main problem with writing is that now everyone knows my imaginary friends, and it’s kinda creeping me out.” I know that feeling all too well, and yet part of me says, “That’s okay, as long as they’re looking at my imaginary friends and not at me.” Trouble is, one or two of my “imaginary friends” don’t like being noticed, either, and there’s another who is too damn good at deflecting personal questions, and as an author I cannot let them get away with that. We… have an awkward author/creation relationship sometimes. 🙂 )
So… Fear. A few days ago I got an email from someone I’d known at university. I immediately panicked. I knew that if I didn’t respond to the email, this person would just look for (I typed find at first instead of look for, and ain’t it funny that I, of all people, overlooked the distinction) some other way of getting in touch with me. I didn’t want that to happen, because as I said to my clone-sibling in a telephone conversation that evening, this person didn’t know me as Thomas Weaver (I didn’t use my middle name at all back then, much less use it in place of my real surname), and I was afraid that he’d either 1) think that this “Weaver” person had stolen his friend’s fiction, or 2) have a clue for once and realize that this was really me, but then go and blather my “secret identity” to all and sundry — “everyone and their dog” was the expression I used, and don’t think that turn of phrase wasn’t meant to echo back to a certain story prologue-thing, Loyal Reader, because that was how panicky I felt. This person has no understanding of how or why some people don’t want their entire lives splashed across the internet, or the rumor mill, or whatever. And because the person who emailed me was the source, all unknowningly, of that “metaphor of hounds” which I’ve made such use of in my stories… Yeah. Only thing is, this time it is my own fear and not someone else’s. Nevertheless, I’m sure I’ll find a way to make use of it.
During the past few days, I have caught myself at times thinking that maybe karate lessons aren’t all that different from teaching someone how to fire a handgun. That roundabout metaphor is probably unjustified. Probably. And like all borrowed metaphors, it falls apart if I try to push it too hard. Nevertheless…
Now I’ve got several songs running through my head simultaneously. One of them is “Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls. Another is a song that was in the soundtrack for a movie that I didn’t like much, but I’ve always liked the song even though it reminds me of that movie now. (“Dancing With Myself” by Billy Idol. Figure it out for yourself or not, but don’t ask me to explain.) Also “Southern Cross,” that classic by Crosby, Stills and Nash — I’ve liked it ever since I first heard it, and I associate it with several works of fiction, only some of them my own. (AK quotes a line from it in one of my short stories. Also, think for a moment what is located real close to the Southern Cross in that part of the sky… *shakes head* Now there’s an obscure movie quote that comes to mind, which I did not intend. That one would be alpha Ceti, by the way, near as I could ever figure. Seems all my metaphors are congregating today… May as well throw in another one: “Up to your old Excalibur tricks again, eh, Centauri?”)
Stories acquire a pressure, a certain building toward critical mass, and I suspect much of this has been me trying to sort things out through real life that aren’t really about real life, because real life, however uncomfortable, is often easier to deal with, since it’s right in my face. (Damn, that was close to being a rewording of that saying they have in Kyre which I cannot properly translate into English… so yeah, heaven help me. 🙂 ) That dreaded flashback scene has never been finished, and I must finish the rest of it, and send that to Loyal Reader, before the end of summer. Because metaphors. Even when the POV character insists he’s not one.
(* I ought to explain the Murphism thing a bit, eh? Murphy is the God of Shit Happens, but also the God of Strange Coincidence, Blind Luck, and Chaos-for-Your-Own-Damn-Good. Upon his followers — and everyone else — he bestows the blessing of serendipity, the fortunate mistake that leads to something better than what one planned. Upon his followers — and everyone else — he also bestows a lot of weirdness and chaos and other things that prevent one from becoming complacent. The currently popular version of “Murphy’s Law” is actually a pessimistic heresy stating that bad things will happen whenever given the chance. While this is true, it is also true of good things. The universe follows the course of least resistance — even cold, hard physics tells us this — and if you can learn to manipulate probabilities to make a good outcome the most likely, that’s what will happen. “This is the Law:/For good or for ill,/Whatever can happen, must,/And it will.” And yes, I made all that up — except the part about all things following the path of least resistance — but it’s a better philosophy than most I’ve heard.)