I’m home sick from work today with vertigo.
Vertigo sucks. I’ve had it once before – it started after I finished recovering from a particularly nasty bout with the flu a few years back, and it stuck around for a few days. I’m hoping since the precursor illness to this one wasn’t nearly as bad, this will clear up quickly. We’ll see. In the meantime, there will be no running, no yoga, no driving, and lots of alternating between sitting and lying down to stop the spins. It’s frustrating to not be able to trust yourself enough to even just walk across a room.
The big news is that my first short story, “How to Make a Triffid,” went live on the Tor.com website yesterday, and I’m absolutely thrilled. I blogged about the story behind this story a while back, so I’m not going to go into that again, but I did want to write a little bit about a conversation I had with a friend of mine a few weeks back, since it’s been on my mind lately, and hitting the Writer Landmark of first story publication, it’s apropos.
The question came up about how we expect we should feel after we cross these big artistic thresholds – how there should be this seachange after these goals we strive towards for so long are accomplished. I mean, we are objectively changed at that point, right? At least as far as objective categorization goes, and as far as the opinions of others outside of our field are concerned (this is particularly apt with so many of us facing down Thanksgiving dinners with family in the coming week). I mean, now I’m a Published Author, right? I’m magically in the club of the Writers with the capital W’s. It’s something I’ve been working towards for years now, so I should feel like everything has changed, right? Like I now have permission to pursue my art with abandon because of this validation?
But I don’t feel any different. I still struggle to put my butt in the chair – there’s been no discernable, lasting increase in my confidence in myself between selling this story last year and it being published. In fact, the act of writing has become harder simply because the standards I’m holding my writing to have risen. Don’t get me wrong: it’s good to have our standards exceed our skill level – this ensures that we’re always striving to improve our craft. But when the gap becomes too large, we risk artistic paralysis. Due to a number of personal reasons I’m not going to get into, I’ve been struggling with this lately.
It brings to mind one of the lessons we learned at VP about internal and external markers of success: how our landmarks should be the ones we have control over (like writing every day, finishing stories, etc) and not the ones we don’t (story sales, award nominations, etc.). That is the essence of art, after all – it’s something deeply personal, an expression of the world we carry within ourselves. Audience shouldn’t matter. Validation should come from within.
But I’m not fooling anyone when I say that someone telling you they liked your story doesn’t still feel really fucking good, and that someone telling you they hated it stings.
I dunno. It’s a weird thing, these landmarks. It’s like we think that the “striving” will suddenly become “doing”, and that there’s a difference between the two. But there’s not. And really all of this is because we’ve crossed the threshold of only showing our art to our friends and peers to showing it to complete strangers.
But is that really going to change your actual process and how you feel about it? If anything, it can make it harder, and that added difficulty is wrapped in layers of pointless anxiety and stress about controlling things that we can’t control.
Recently my (awesome, amazing, humbling, inspiring) writing group critiqued one of my trunk stories from a few years ago. It was enlightening. I could still remember how I had felt when I finished writing that story, the pride I had in it, how I had thought it was best thing I had written. But seeing it again, comparing it to how I write now, it’s not. There are mistakes in there I don’t make anymore (or at least that I make less frequently). I don’t even approach writing short stories in the same way anymore. I’ve gotten better at it.
That’s a difference I can feel. That’s the difference that matters.
On an somewhat related note: go read The Oatmeal’s latest post on making things. He speaks the truth.