Stuck on the Slow Train
Some weeks, you just can’t win. It’s not right, it’s not fair. They're the horrendous traffic jam when you're already late. They're the one email or customer that is going to totally derail your plans to get through Monday unscathed. The large, slow moving spider that appears as the shampoo starts to sting your eyes. It’s basically some sort of event horizon conjured by statistics and chance. Some weeks will be amazing. Some weeks, huge and important events will appear on your horizon and raise your hopes and heart into the stratosphere. You get a story on a podcast. You get an incredibly kind bit of feedback about your writing. You release a new novel. Some weeks, people will ask you to contribute a piece for their site or their anthology. Or you’ll meet a new writer and feel like you’ve come across another kindred spirit. Someone who shares roughly the same internal wiring as you. Other weeks, though, none of that will happen.
As you might’ve guessed, this has been one of those weeks for me. And, of course, it didn’t need to be. It wasn't meant to be. No, this was meant to be a week of getting back on track. Last week’s wrecking ball of a flu virus knocked me off my feet just when I didn't need it. I’ve got deadlines looming up ahead and a certain urgency to get to where I can try something new. There were a few things I was planning to submit that I've now ended up putting to one side so I could get moving again. Only, this week, the sense of momentum has been against me from the start. The brand new story I wanted to really hack into this week has eluded me from the first time I sat down to take a crack at it. The rewrite I’m working on never quite engaged with the gearing in my head until I was running out of time every morning. Plus, the way things have fallen every day, I’m either exhausted or booked up with other plans by the time I get out of work and could put an extra hour or so in.
Time really can be the enemy. Getting Fluff finished and released took up a lot of time. As my publisher commented before we got in on the shelves, I really ripped this one out of me. He was not wrong. Still, there’s no way that I can sit back and relax now. No way at all. I’ve got stories due. I’ve got a live event to plan. I’ve also got a future to aim for. I’m 38 now. There’s no avoiding a certain large number that I’m rapidly approaching. Not that it should matter. More and more, I’m trying to focus on one thing: be happy. I know, I know. It’s a little trite, but I’m pretty sure it’s half the battle. There is always a voice in my head, on a bad day or a slow day, that will point out only what I don’t have. I wasn’t a success in my twenties. I don’t have the world clawing at my door for another novel. Most people I know treat my writing as a my hobby, whereas it feels like the world to me. It's pretty much the reason I'm here.
Now, I know that voice is doing me no good. Not really. Sure, you need to push yourself. You won’t get anywhere by deciding to wait for inspiration or success. The tricky thing is that you can also ruin yourself by forcing yourself to keep fighting uphill. People like Ray Bradbury and Elmore Leonard said many witty and clever things about writer’s block and writing every single day of your life. Well, you know, good for them. Although, when you’re running out of ages beginning with 3 and you’re really nowhere special on the sliding scale between Literary Legend to Office Data Monkey, their words do start to sting a little. I suppose it's easy to sound wise and worldly once you've started to get bored of encores at your book signings.
My family is not the healthiest family. My brain is not the most co-operative of brains. I sit in front of the TV some nights and I can’t stop my fingers or my leg occasionally twitching. I fiddle with remotes or tap the bookshelves next to me seat. I’m bristling with the need to do something, because I'm terrified of doing nothing. I can't relax until, on a week like this, I've found a way past the latest roadblock in my brain. I’m aware that I’m not Mr Patient and that I've wasted a lot of time and some truly great opportunities in my life. I can’t afford to do that anymore. Not if I ever want to get achieve what I truly want to achieve. Only, here’s what I try to keep reminding myself, it doesn’t matter. Or it shouldn’t matter. Not really. Not on the gran scale of things. The universe doesn't win, lose, draw or even care when it comes to book sales.
Here’s how I see it: you have to boil your obsession down to where it first got a hook into your heart. When I first understood that you could write stories for a living, I didn’t want to do it for fame or fortune or praise. I didn’t want to do it so I could get out of a mind numbing, soul flattening job. Nope. I wanted to do it because it sounded fun. I wanted to do it because I like to make things up, basically. I like to entertain people. Which I’m pretty sure I’ve done a few times since I started writing and releasing horror. Even when I was self-publishing it, I got some great feedback from people at work who were really caught off guard but what they read. Which really is all that should matter. I enjoyed writing it and they enjoyed reading it. That's the core of this. The first half, particularly. I get that not every story will be easy or simple to whip into shape, but the real sense of achievement and fun needs to come from there. When you’re trying to do something creative that sits outside the realms of you so-called normal life, it’s very easy to feel like you’re failing just because you can’t do it full time. This is a world that operates, advertises and obsesses over fairy tales. We want to see people do well. We want to see people swept up in a wave of success and joy, because we need to believe it can happen to us. Our lives are engineered to crave it. Only, we don’t all get it.
Which is fine.
Which should be fine.
What I’m starting to realise, more and more, is that the best work people do is not the work they do in order to sell copies or make enough to go down to part time hours. No, it’s the most personal project they take on. It’s the thing they create for themselves. They put their hearts and souls into that. It’s not about marketing strategies. It’s not about the soft copy, identifying key USPs or aiming for a certain audience type. These things rarely work. Anything assembled by greed or committee or desperation lacks soul. Things work because they come from the heart and you can sense it when they do. As an audience or a reader, you can feel the honesty. The passion. It engages with you in a way that the big, shiny, shallow stuff could never dream of.
So, sure, this has been a slow week, but that’s okay. It’s not great, but it’s okay. I’m alive and healthy. My family and friends are all doing well. No idiot behind a big desk has either made me penniless or launched anything nuclear yet. We’re okay and there’s next week. There's more time. These ideas will work, because some part of my subconscious is already chewing them over. It’ll offer up the missing piece of the puzzles when it’s found them. I need to trust in that and I need to remember that happiness is more important. I need to try and breathe. Trust in the chaos of the universe a little. Because it certainly doesn’t respond well to trying to force it to do anything. The slow train will get me to a quicker connection, I guess I just need to learn to enjoy the view until then.