Leaving the drought behind, slowly and unsteadily

“The year had been a year of terror”

2018 as a whole was a terrible year for my creative writing, and for my fiction projects. I already mentioned the general lack of updates on this place and the personal reasons behind my writing struggles in the previous post, written in June 2018.

Six months ago I also wrote that, despite such struggles, I was cautiously optimistic about resuming work on my novel Low Fidelity, my short stories and series. It turned out to be a temporary spark. The occasional rain in a desert region.

About Off the Grid (What is Off the Grid?), I wrote that at the time I was “working on Episode 06 – Exposed in the light. It should be published here soon”. At the moment, that Episode still needs to be finished. I’ve definitely not abandoned the series, especially because of its connections with my main novel.

About The Ian Charles Winterman series, I wrote that at the time I was “working on the fourth [story], and I plan to republish the series here and in a more portable ebook format”. Much like Off the Grid‘s Episode 06, that fourth story in the Ian Charles Winterman series is still in the making. Again, my plans about this project haven’t changed. They’re just delayed.

Everything’s been delayed.

The ghost pressure trap

Writing and publishing online, especially in recent years, tends to be an endeavour that’s riddled with performance anxiety. Often, the pressure to push new material out there is quite strong. Slow pace and periods of silence mean losing whatever little and fleeting attention you’ve managed to get so far. This is already a dreadful feeling when you’re, say, writing a tech blog. With creative projects it’s even worse.

I know what you’re thinking — long-term writing projects, such as a novel or a series of stories, inherently have a very different pace than a tech blog; one cannot be expected to be creative with the same effectiveness every day, nor is one expected to advance more complex projects like these on a daily basis and provide readers with new stuff every day. And it’s true, absolutely true. But things get complicated when you self-publish and when you do everything yourself — the writing, the editing, the proofreading, the book designing, the publishing, the advertising.

Gaining (and maintaining!) a readership in this scenario is hard, no matter how good or experienced a writer you are. You find yourself in a situation where you feel you’re expected to deliver something on a somewhat regular basis, but you can’t because your creative writing develops at a completely different pace in a completely different fashion than writing, say, tech articles. And when you simply can’t produce anything substantial — for lack of inspiration, concentration, energy, time — this ends up hurting with double the intensity.

You feel you’re going nowhere. You look at your unfinished writings and ask yourself What am I doing here? Where is this going? And what’s worse is that these very feelings of aimlessness and self-doubt create a vicious circle, in turn affecting your inspiration and creativity.

But this is also largely ‘ghost’ pressure. I describe it this way because what you perceive as ‘external pressure’ under these circumstances isn’t actually external. It comes from within, it’s something you create, which is totally unnecessary. Or rather, it could be useful as a sort of self-discipline mechanism (you have set your goals, you have made plans, now stick to them!), but guessing the right dose isn’t trivial at all. It gets toxic quickly. It can be paralysing. And it’s what has been happening to me these past months. And it’s what has also made me very angry with myself, because I should know better.

What’s next

My plan for this year is simple: to publish things when they are ready, and to make people more aware of what I have already produced while I’m preparing new materials. I also need to avoid the urge of making estimates when it comes to future releases. I’m just awful at it. Worse, I create expectations I might not fulfil, and that ultimately disappoints everybody.

I definitely need to escape the ghost pressure trap, even when I actually receive the occasional email from people who apparently urge me to publish ‘new stuff’ while bizarrely conceding they haven’t read much of what I have already published.

Another idea I’ve had for this space specifically is to use it not only to publish free-to-read pieces of fiction, but also to share the occasional writing-related musings or commentary.

As for my ongoing projects, while at the moment I honestly don’t know when I’ll manage to finish and publish Episode 06 of Off the Grid or the fourth Ian Charles Winterman story, I know that fully realising the nature of my creative rut has already helped me to calm down and collect my thoughts. Another recent happy accident while writing the latest chapter of Low Fidelity led to a truly eureka moment which had the very positive effect of painting a clearer picture of where the general narrative is going, while energising me in the process. This makes me hopeful, as similar moments in the past usually led to richer, more inspired, and therefore more prolific phases.

To those who are still out there listening to what I have to say and reading my fiction, thank you. Thank you so much.

To conclude, the usual reminder

If you like what I write, if you’ve been enjoying what little I’ve published here for free, if you appreciate my more tech-oriented musings on my main website Morrick.me, or my explorations in vintage Macs and software at System Folder; or if you just like me and want to help, consider checking out my fiction and purchase my Minigrooves short stories, or send your contribution via PayPal. Or just spread the word. It helps a lot and I truly appreciate it. Thanks again!