I’ve never quite managed to take a real break from writing. Not because I write every day (I certainly don’t), but because even after weeks or months of not putting in any wordcount, I still think of my story, my ambitions and all the work I still need to do. Always have. And while it may sound poetic, artistic, fantastically dedicated and whatnot, it is in fact unhealthy. Not to mention less productive on the long run than working in bouts and breaks, and that’s one thing that seemed counterintuitive to me but it’s true.
There’s a very thin line between dedication and obsession, and I’m prone to cross it. Also, there’s a very subtle difference between inspiration driving me to write, and pressure chasing me like a blood-thirsty Orc.
It’s probably not escaped you that I have been somewhat absent lately. Less engaged with social media, with writing blog posts, with commenting on other blogs. I have been less active in the overall writing realm, snatched out of it by real-life circumstances.
The first weeks were excruciating. If you’ve ever had a bad conscience because you weren’t writing or “building your platform”, multiply that by ten and you know how I felt. I used to enjoy being up to date and studying all the facets of the industry, from the indie revolution, social media tricks and blogging, to branding and forging fruitful connections. It meant I was knowledgeable and savvy, and I worked hard for it. Then I suddenly couldn’t invest the same energy and time in it, and then I couldn’t get engaged with it at all anymore. And I felt like I was being left behind, falling out of sync with the rest of the writing world.
I was slipping through the cracks.
And you know what? It turns out that’s exactly what I needed. I involuntarily took a vacation from my typical preoccupations and worries, from my work and tasks, and it’s put things into a brilliantly clear perspective.
Friedrich Nietzsche is my favorite philosopher. He has really marked my adolescence, together with Richard Wagner and Marilyn Manson, my discovery of theoretical physics and reading my first science-fiction novel. And one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from Nietzsche is this: “When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” I’ve learned the true meaning of this quite early in life, and have never forgotten it. But I never really believed that being interested in the writing industry can ever become such an abyss. Especially since I’m not a day-dreamer, I’m quite pragmatic despite my “artistic” tendencies, and I know how businesses and industries function. But it has, it’s become an abyss and it was swallowing me, and if I wouldn’t have been forced to turn my back to it I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it, not for many more years.
My feeling of being left behind slowly gave way to relief.
It’s been almost two months since I’ve written anything new for my novel. I’ve reworked some parts, replotted half of it and reorganized my outline to a very promising new version, learning an astonishing lot about storytelling that I previously hadn’t properly grasped, but I haven’t actually written any text. I could bite my lip and weep in frustration that so much time has passed without a concrete result. I could feel like a slacker, an amateur, a loser. But I don’t. I can’t. Because I now understand things about my story, my writing and the writing world which were previously simply to close for me to recognize. I’ve wandered out between the trees, out of the forest, out onto a wide plane in the bare bright sunlight. And everything looks different from here.
I remember now why I started writing in the first place.
I wanted to explore hypothetical worlds and dig into the minds of hypothetical people, mash together all I’ve ever experienced, wished or feared to experience, grind it down and build something new from it. It was a natural continuation of playing as a child, of inventing adventures and exploring possibilities in a careless, limitless way. I didn’t start to write because I wanted to be published, because I wanted a hundred thousand Twitter followers and an author profile on Goodreads. I didn’t start to learn the craft of storytelling so I could win the Pulitzer or the Hugo. I learn because I want to outgrow and surprise myself, because I want to learn how to speak story, scream story, sing story in such a way that it will outlast me and my own limited understanding. I started to write because I love experimenting with realities, not because I want to beat some Amazon algorithm for a day.
Stepping away from that thick, boisterous forest allowed me to remember what writing really meant to me, and that it’s got so much more to do with REAL, IMMEDIATE LIFE than with the glittery, distant and fake world of the online writing industry.
Sure, in order to sell books and win a free-pass into the “published author” VIP club where they only serve caviar and champagne, we have to know how to navigate the industry. But that should be an appendix, an afterthought, a means to an end, not the damn purpose of it all! We should write and then find an audience who likes what we’ve written, not write with the sole purpose of catching as many readers as possibles. At least that’s not my purpose. That’s like fishing with dynamite—you get a ton of [dead] fish, but where’s the fun? Where’s the thrill of that wiggle at the end of the line and the success of knowing that one fish came to you?
I remembered why I write, and the clarity of those days when my sole interest was the exploration of potential words while living in the skin of potential people. I remembered what matters—the clarity and beauty of fiction before our focus slips to how others perceive it, before it slips out of our hands and the industry turns it into a product.
So I write this down to remind myself, should the need ever arise again: Focusing on how the industry transforms our creation into its product, instead of focusing on our creation, is nothing else than staring into an abyss and letting it suck our spirit dry.
I will write fiercely, naturally, and from that place of inner peace where only truth matters. Not because I strive to prove something, or to see my name listed somewhere. But because I love playing with imagination, it’s the way I explore life.
I will blog because it’s a conversation with you, and I wouldn’t stop calling my friends just because I was busy with other things. But I don’t blog because I’m trying to build a glossy Online-Me that sells stuff to people and feeds the industry machine.
AND I will no longer gasp over every spasm and twitch of the industry. I don’t care how Amazon does business, how much X or Y has earned last year, or how many agents offer selfpublishing services. I won’t invest any energy worrying about things I can’t control.
I’m not riding at the top of any revolution, I won’t change the world with my opinions, won’t pave the way for any new generation. I don’t want to. Those jobs are taken. All I want is to write, to love that I write and what I write, and to enjoy my life. To understand life in all its beauty, not to drown it out with the glare of my browser.
“Take a walk outside — it will serve you far more than pacing around in your mind.” ~Rasheed Ogunlaru