I had some interruptions the past few weeks that interfered with the progress I felt I was making. The first was over two weeks of illness, exchanging a cold that roamed ‘tween throat, head, and chest with my daughter. But the rest of it was a block, one that I really should have powered through more quickly. I found myself hard-pressed to write a solid review of China Miéville ‘s Embassytown. I wrote an initial draft that was muted but laudatory, and after reading it realized that I was dancing around an issue that I could not put my finger on. When I wrote my SF Signal column on Aliens vs. Monsters, I saw the problem and re-wrote the review. This time it was snarky, and unnecessarily so. But I was strangely angry at the book, and I needed to get that out on paper (screen) and see it in order to move past it.
I did. and I wrote the review, and hopefully it will be up soon at The Functional Nerds.
Since then word-flow has picked up. I wrote what I think is one of my best columns yet on phantasy and the imagination, and then turned to another review, this one of Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, which I found to be less about SF than about other ideas and matters that SF reflects or, perhaps more appropriately, lenses for a reader. That one was easier to write, primarily because of its directness, but also because it deals with the question of how the human imagination is shaped and channeled by culture and the world around us. Some of her points are simplified, but most of what she discusses I found easy to engage, and I think there’s a lot to discuss in this book as a result of the way she writes, of how she analyzes but does not go off into theoretical abstracts. The literary memoir quality of it, the personal elements, anchor the discussion, and she weaves her assertions and conclusions into her life and work and uses her standpoint as the loom. The resulting tapestry results in some patterns and flourishes that are not completely to my taste, but I admire the book and I will be engaging it more critically in a future Bellowing Ogre column.
What this review also gave me is more movement (Atwood re-tweeted it, and I got a number of kind messages from people about it) and the impetus of that is increasing my writing momentum. I’m working on a feature article for publication later this fall, I’m keeping up with the weekly column, and I am starting to sketch out a book proposal, which I will write more about as it begins to come together. What is amusing about this, and perhaps a bit ironic, is that I am doing all these things to increase my momentum and apply it to fiction writing. I am much more confident in my non-fiction work, but I want to take the energy I am creating with this forward motion and use it to power my writing. Not just the production of words, but the confidence that put them on paper and craft them, the discipline and conviction to keep at it, and the fortitude to not just maintain but to venture farther ahead with what I write.
Carrie Cuinn wrote about a writer’s work recently, and it may not be as flashy or inspirational in tone as a lot of writing advice out there, but what I loved about it is that it’s not “advice.” Carrie wrote about what it takes to be a writer, and that’s all. That quality made it very useful and inspiring to me in ways that most other discussions of writing haven’t been. Carrie wrote about creating momentum and using it to keep going. That is really what you need to make a life out of writing, no matter how much you get published or who likes your work. You succeed as a writer when that first push impels you to continue and you create more momentum, instead of hesitating or letting obstacles slow you down too much. The best thing to remember, for me at least, is that there are always obstacles, and unless you take the impetus gained from each little movement forward and apply it to get over those obstacles, you’ll be stuck. Writing is about learning how to get unstuck and bound over the obstacles, to keep going and shoving the words out of your head and onto something where you can deal with them, make them better, share them, and roll some of the resultant energy right back into doing it some more.
For me this has been a hard lesson to learn, but it works.