“All writers without exception are scared to death. Some simply hide it better than others”—Richard Simon of Simon& Schuster
The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell has been my nighttime companion for a number of weeks now.
Nighttime companion defined: The book/author I’m currently reading before turning out the lights for the night.
(The hubs gets a little disturbed when I say I’m taking a specific author to bed with me. For example, “I’m sleeping with John Grisham tonight,” or “Time to hit the sheets with Dean Koontz” just doesn’t sit well. So “nighttime companion” it shall be until that doesn’t register well, either, and I’ll find a new way to freak him out.)
Bell covers mental acuity, practical tactics, and general publishing advice all in the style of the Chinese General Sun Tzu. Many of the ancient warrior’s methods can be applied to all different aspects of life and business—not just war or writing.
Though sometimes sitting down to the keyboard or wrestling with an unruly character certainly feels like a battle.
It’s in this book that I found the quotes featured in this blog.
Scared to death. Trying to hide it.
Writing for the short story challenges and submitting short story (after story after story) for consideration to editors got me over that fear. I don’t mind getting rejection letters. I simply send the story out again or publish it myself. No fear. No worries.
But now, the worry’s shifted.
After our round with the COVID chaos, the fear is getting back into the battle, so to speak. Will my Little Miss Muse keep showing up?
Will I remember where my InDesign buttons are when I go to create my next ebook?
Will I ever hit that glorious stride again, where fingers and brain have taken over and time stands still and the characters come alive and dance to their own tunes on the screen before my eyes? And I’m not “there” anymore? (Some call this a flow state, others call it insanity.)
Am I insane? (Please, for those of you who’ve signed up for the newsletter, don’t email me about this point. I already know I’m a few clicks off normal.)
Have the real-life battles away from the writing created a mental chasm so wide between daytime drama and writing dreams that it can’t be breached?
And oh. My. Word. I forgot I’d started a newsletter. Where’d I put the passwords to all of that stuff?
So, I freaked out a little last week. Well, okay. I had a complete and utter freakout. A black-tie-worthy, ball-gown donning fancy freakout.
Over the writing.
Over the buildup of stress of the last few months. Illness. Aging ones. Day job. Cats. Christmas. Writing.
And the writing should be fun, doggonit.
So, I did the unthinkable.
I bought calendars.
They’re everywhere. Dated ones. Blank ones.
Highlighters, pencils (with fresh, clean erasers), and pens of all colors litter my desktop. Post-It thanks me for my end-of-year contribution to their bottom line, as does White-Out.
All in an effort to control and create and fanciful structure on which to hang publishing and writing goals and dreams for the new year while maintaining balance and sanity with the real world.
Most of the calendars came from the Dollar Store, and at a buck apiece, I can afford to have further fancy and flamboyant freakouts and throw them across the room, into the garbage, out the window, or set them ablaze…
I’m taking this nugget from the book to put into practice today:
“If in the midst of difficulties, we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune.” — Sun Tzu
James Scott Bell calls it “a snatcher of time.”
And thus the calendars. And the dream-planning. And the goal-setting. It all starts afresh with the new normal of “nothing is normal, not yet” mentality.
Snag a day here. An hour there. Fifteen minutes waiting on my boys to find their keys? Maybe that’s enough time to forward-scoot the manuscript 200 words or so.
A slow day at work? Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. 500 more words I didn’t have before.
Raging ahead, freaking out and fearless all at the same time.
One specific fear, after having sold a handful of shorts to professional publications, is that the next story will be trite at best. At worst, a twisted jungle of cliches and low-hanging fruit presenting mere kindergarteners the opportunity to spin better yarns than B.A. Paul.
The Art of War for Writers helped sort these bits out.
And perhaps the book’s re-quote that hit me in the gut the hardest comes from a man I’d only heard of here and there in writing courses when an instructor would refer to him as “prolific.” I looked him up. And yes, one must scroll and scroll to get through Harlan Ellison’s bibliography which spans novels, shorts and screen plays, not to mention wearing your index finger and a mouse out scrolling his awards.
And, from a cursory exploration of his Wikipedia page, the man was someone many thin-skinned folks would avoid due to his, well, cantankerous personality. Wiki even gave him a “Controversies and Disputes” section.
I digress to the quote, addressing my fancy freakout of future “bad” writing. The quote is as true for writers as it is for carpenters or cooks, golfers or guitarists:
“If someone who writes that badly can become a writer, then even the dippiest of us can become a writer, chacma baboons can become writers, sludge and amoeba can become writers. The trick is not in becoming a writer. It is in staying a writer. Day after week after month after year. Staying in there for the long haul.” — Harlan Ellison
So thanks, James Scott Bell, for accompanying me through many nighttime hours. Thanks for gleaning these quotes and offering practical tactics and a much-needed reset for my tired-out brain.
And, after a quick rabbit trail down the Google hole, I came across more quotes from Harlan. Most can’t be re-quoted here due to the, ahem, adult ratings.
But I’ll leave you with this one…
This quote is believed to be a Harlan Ellison original, though some may argue the origin. However, no one in their right mind—or even in the middle of their own version of a fancy freakout—would argue that it doesn’t fit 2020 like a glove:
“The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity.”