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tearing myself a new one

So, way back on November 24th, 2001, when I began this journal, it was my intention to try and convey my day-to-day experience as a writer. What it's like for me. Though I've tried, I will admit I've not always been honest. I rarely ever write the highest of the highs, and I virtually never write the lowest of the lows. There are reasons for my dishonesty, which I've imagined, from time to time, might be legitimate reasons. For one, I have this unshakable conviction that there's something unseemly about baring your heart and soul and all those other oogy bits for all the world to see (I don't mean nudity; that's just fine). The other thing has been the knowledge that the world is full of assholes who would only roll their eyes and scoff and mock and want to know what the hell I've got to complain about, because, after all, I write books and they get published and I'm paid third-world wages for them and a few people even bother to read what I've written. The assholes scoff and sneer. How dare I complain about reviewers who can't comprehend what they read or publishers who won't pay what they owe or how much I hate writing most days, because (they remind me) the world is simply filled to overflowing with people who would give their pinkie toes and pet goldfish and old maiden aunts to be doing what I'm doing. Indeed, I will hazard to suggest that the internet is especially thick with this particular specie of asshole. In my more optimistic moments, I like to pretend that the internet was devised to draw all these assholes to one convenient place so that they might be easily rounded up and exterminated. Alas, this is certainly not the case. At any rate, what I've written here has been a watered-down half truth, the best that I can usually bring myself to commit to the ether.

The last few days, for example, my entries have told you virtually nothing about the war between myself and "Bainbridge," or the apparently bottomless pit of self-doubt I've been trying not to tumble into, or the more or less crushing sense of futility that comes whenever I foolishly allow myself to consider that I've written and published so much these last thirteen years and yet continue to work, for the most part, in obscurity — while any number of equally witless hacks thrive and wallow in the spotlight, no more or less deserving than am I. Oh, and the crap that Spooky has to put up with because my mood is constantly in the gutter. Hush. I hear the assholes taking notes. Kiernan is a whiner. Kiernan still hasn't learned to bend over and take it up the bum like a good little nixar. And they're right, of course. I shouldn't be writing this down for all the stinking world to see. Nor should I expect the world to care. And I don't. But, yesterday, struggling with this short story, it occurred to me that I wanted someone to know the state of mind that "Bainbridge" is being written in. Or, rather, I wanted them to know my perception of that state, even if they choose to interpret it as something else entirely.

No doubt, the assholes will be laughing themselves sick over this entry for long months to come. They will hold it aloft as indisputable evidence that, though they might be bitter, small-minded losers who've never done anything much with their lives but draw dubious conclusions about the accomplishments of others, at least that silly Caitlín Kiernan bitch is miserable. They will pat themselves on the back and congratulate themselves on being such keen judges of character. They will be pleased, these smart cookies, in that sour, thoughtless way that they are occasionally pleased.

Somewhere in here I have a point. Or maybe I don't.

I want "Bainbridge" to be good. I want it to be very, very good. I know that this is probably the last time I'll write about Dancy Flammarion, and I want to get it right. But I also know, better than any Amazon.com "reviewer" or self-appointed blogospheric crank, the limitations of my talent. And times like this that knowledge is a hammer than batters me half senseless as my fingers jab haltingly as the keyboard.

(Hint for the assholes: You do not have to tell me what I already know.)

For a week now, I've been trying to write this story. More than a week. On a good day, I've written a thousand words or so (yesterday, I managed only 926 words). On the bad days, which have come in equal measure, I've written little or nothing. I can feel the story in my head, can see a character or some particular scene, can hear some snatch of dialogue, but when I try to put it down, the words aren't there. And I sit here and stare at the screen and wish I were anywhere else doing anything else.

But I'm not. I'm here. And this is what I do. And this is how I feel about it. This is not how authors feel about being authors. This is how I feel about being an author, which is why I've bothered with this journal. And I have slowly come to understand that it's as valid as the thoughts of any writer. Writing about writing is exactly like writing itself. There are no rules. There's no right way. There's no code of conduct or established protocol. And there's no one around to catch you when you fall.

Today I have to write the next scene in this story, this story that means far more to me than it will ever mean to anyone else. Day after tomorrow, I have to come back to it and do the same. All next week, I have to get out of bed and sit down in this chair and write this story. When it's finally done, I'll write whatever has to be written next, and whatever comes next after that, and I will hate almost every moment of the process, even if I might somehow love the stories themselves. And then the stories will go out into the wide, wide world, which will generally either ignore them (if they are lucky) or beat them black and blue (if they are not). And I'll see the futility, again, and start over and write the next next thing, because my stories pay the bills, just barely, and heaven knows, at this point, I'm ill-suited to prostitute myself in any other way.

This morning, there's a woman walking on a beach someplace warm. I have to go now and lead her into the sea.



( 21 comments — Have your say! )
Dec. 24th, 2005 05:48 pm (UTC)
Last night I got a Thai fortune cookie that said "One day you will realize how futile your life is."

I think most of us feel like what we do has little impact (myself included lately), but that is looking at it from our own standpoints, from the inside out. As an artist and being the spouse of an artist I know you will always be your harshest critic. I think we all need to just "keep on keepin' on" and focus on having a life well lived-which from reading your journal seems like something you are managing quite nicely. Look at what you do from the outside...what an amazing story you are living!

Sorry if this seems to wishy washy but it is really how I feel and I mean it. You are one amazing lady.
Dec. 24th, 2005 06:19 pm (UTC)
I wish we lived in a world that read more and read smarter, so that there might be more people capable of experiencing what I experience when I read your words.

I wish we lived in a world where storytellers and poets and artists were as treasured and rewarded as men who throw footballs around are in this one.

I wish these births weren't as agonizing as they are, and I wish I could say something that would make any damn difference at all.
Dec. 24th, 2005 06:29 pm (UTC)
I suspect we both need a nice broomstick ride and a bottle of Chartreuse...

...but failing that, this cheered me up a lot this morning:

Snowing on Canterbury Cathedral

More photos, same site.

Dec. 25th, 2005 05:08 am (UTC)
The White Queen
That is a beautiful icon. Did you make it, and how would you feel about me borrowing it to admire for a few posts? If you mind, I certainly wouldn't steal it, but it's very well put-together.

Dec. 25th, 2005 05:12 am (UTC)
Re: The White Queen
I did indeed make it (the tricky part was cloning Edmund out of the shot) and I don't mind at all if you use it, although a credit would be appreciated.

Thank you!
Dec. 25th, 2005 06:21 am (UTC)
Re: The White Queen
Done! When I posted the new entry, I footnoted at the bottom that the icon was courtesy of your livejournal name. Many thanks for doing so. What makes me like the icon so much is the wistful look the queen has, as if she too has spent time emotionally frozen while she kept the land locked in ice.

I can see your new icon here, "Wicked faerie apologist," and it too is delightful. You might enjoy seeing this quote -- it's part of what I wrote for a mini-review in a recent entry.

I rooted for the White Witch to win. Is that so wrong? Tilda Swinton looked so dashing as she was about to decapitate Peter, so confident as she threw Edmund in the dungeon. Tyranny is cruel rule, but at least you know who's in charge. The actress has also played the angel Gabriel in "Constantine," and seems to be good at playing women who are confidently making the wrong choices for the wrong reasons. At least they enjoy themselves.

Dec. 25th, 2005 06:28 am (UTC)
Re: The White Queen
Excellent quote! And I have to say, I'm a big fan of wicked faeries everywhere.
Dec. 24th, 2005 06:30 pm (UTC)
Once upon a time nobody ever got to read things like your journal. Readers rarely, if ever, got to see the process of writing down stories or the day-to-day struggles of writers, whether with respect to their writing or otherwise. Is it any wonder that some people don't know how to deal with them? It's a lot easier to pick apart a journal entry than to read a collection of short stories. Come to that, it's easier to provide a shallow once-over of a book review than it is to offer a reasoned critique, to say nothing of how hard it is to tell stories well. The assholes are doing the easy thing.

One day, insipid Amazon reviews will be dust and gone and your fiction won't. In the meanwhile, I can't imagine anybody with half a brain is going to be dissuaded from reading your work because of someone's online carping. Those people who complain about your work are, I'm guessing, the same people who would gave up on Threshold around page ten.

Maybe your journal isn't as completely honest as it could be, but it's still here and it's still a testament. Books about writing can sometimes be very useful, but I've rarely found anything helpful in them about what it's really like to write. Your posts help, and I look forward to them every morning. While I realize you're writing the journal for yourself, there are many of us who follow along and cheer at the good parts.
Dec. 24th, 2005 06:45 pm (UTC)
I've played around a bit with writing fiction, but I don't really feel driven to write prose as much as I am to write programs. Still it seems to be that there are similarities in the processes involved in these two kinds of writing. And I've written programs under conditions that have driven me to distraction and forced me to understand something about how this process works and how various other problems interfere with my ability to write code.

You said, "I can feel the story in my head, can see a character or some particular scene, can hear some snatch of dialogue, but when I try to put it down, the words aren't there. And I sit here and stare at the screen and wish I were anywhere else doing anything else." When I get that feeling while writing programs, there has generally been a specific cause, and that cause is hard to describe.

I find that there are two kinds of work that I have to do. The vast majority of the time I spend writing is a fairly simple process of producing code. But for complex programs, I also have to spend a certain amount ot time making big picture decisions about the programs architecture. Much of this second process is subconscious, and I only have a partial understanding of it. This second process is more fragile than the first, and I find that I can only engage in it when I have a large block of uninterrupted time to sit and stew on big picture issues. It seems to me that it is very dependent on loading up my subconscious with a lot of context about the entire problem I am trying to solve and about the tools I'm using to solve it.

I can only do so much of the simpler code production process before I have to start making big picture decision to make further progress. I have learned, subconsciously, that without the big picture decisions, I am likely wasting my time writing code. My mind just seems to dig in its heels and drive anywhere but to the task at hand if I try to force myself to write code when I haven't done enough of this higher level stewing on the problem. When I reach that point, I must accept the need to stew. I can use the act of writing lines of code to stimulate this process, but still, I much find a large chunk of uninterrupted time to stew and make some decisions, if I am to make further process.

I think writing fiction involves similar problems. It's important not to write yourself into a corner. Plot needs to be well constructed and natural. Characters must be coherent and sufficiently developed or the reader. There are all these complex issues that you must address, or the finished product will be seriously flawed. You must engage your intuition, because serial thinking is not sufficient to consider all these issues at once. Even though we may stimulate this big picture, intuitive process with the mundane process of simple writing, it is still different and quite important. It seems to me that it must be just as important for a writer as it is for a programmer.

Dec. 24th, 2005 07:47 pm (UTC)
Just starting on that road, having published only once, so far, something small in an anthology, and trying to get a first novel into play.

While you are, in fact, where I one day intend to be, and so I'm really glad to hear what you have to say about it, because, if I ever do get there, I want to know the lay of the land.

If other people in my position don't appreciate that, I say it only improves my chances. They're the ones who will write one novel or short story and peddle it directly into the slush pile, learn nothing, and complain. Granted, I may peddle 40 into the slush pile, but what the hell, I like writing.

If other people in my position want to complain and bitch and laugh at you, really, what the hell do they know? If a publisher came to their house tomorrow and offered them a Stephen King-load of money for a finished ms, how many of them would be able to produce one?

Not even me.

I've learned to use only four fingers to type, so as I can keep my middle two high for all who wish to snicker at my writing to see.

Noute te bastardes carbarundorum
Dec. 24th, 2005 08:15 pm (UTC)
And then the stories will go out into the wide, wide world, which will generally either ignore them (if they are lucky) or beat them black and blue (if they are not).

but sometimes, they find people who will love and cherish them, pore over them and keep them someplace where they won't get too awfully dusty.

all of the people here are testament to that.
Dec. 24th, 2005 09:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the sharing, and all the best of luck of getting out what you intend.

Its odd, I have started writing again after a little break to go to school and get a degree for photography, which then brought me back in turn to writing, my first passion, enough so that I did not want to ruin it with college, if that makes sense.

But my point.

When writing it feels as though there is something alive and squirming in my brain, trying to work its way loose, and all that comes out of whatever it is are a few words, a few parts of the picture. But eventually if I keep with it something substantial starts to form.

I love it when I can almost feel the movement, its the excitement, or sometimes maybe fear, that a woman who is pregnant experiences when their hatchling moves in their belly.

Although I am never going to grab someones hand and place it on my head saying can you feel that.
Dec. 25th, 2005 01:09 am (UTC)
This may not mean as much to you to hear it as it means to me to say it but, I have several of your books, and they have provided a meaningful experience, intellectually and creatively, for me, in MY imagination. I suffer from constant nightmares, horrendous ones, and have all my life. I swear to you, during the nights I read To Charles Fort With Love just before sleep, I had wonderful dreams.

I want you to know that your art does effect the world in a positive way. At least my world. That said, you should bear in mind that it isn't our happiness (your readers) that you are writing for. It's for YOU. And if you are not happy, maybe you should pursue another avenue of art. I wanted all my life to be a writer. But it was a struggle for me. My rich and complex imagination was reluctant to fill that blank page. My husband nudged me to learn to draw. Now, I am a painter. And I am having a blast! This is my niche, my little corner of the world of art, in all it's mediums. I never struggle to create, it is a JOY.

I wish for you to find your joy. Your art is for YOU. Be good to yourself.

And thank you for all the lovely words you did write, and may yet write in the future. You have already left a legacy of literature worth a spot in history.

With respect,
Victoria C.
Dec. 25th, 2005 03:00 am (UTC)
Remember this when you're having a bad day: You're MY FAVORITE.

I choose to read what you write because it tends to move me on a consistent basis. You may not always be happy DOING what you do, but I'm always fascinated with the end results. I'm always giddy with anticipation for the NEXT novel or chapbook. I'm smitten with the thoughts that go through your head, out of your fingertips and onto paper. Your imagination FEEDS me something that I can't get from anywhere else. It's the sole supplement for what I'm requiring... and when I get the fix, I'm better for it.

You're my favorite, and I simply can't be the only person who feels that way.

"I am Legion. We are many." if you will.

And as an aside, the assholes that you mention are simply THAT; assholes. Little people who feed on negativity and the discomfort that they can cause others. They're shit wrapped in flesh and don't deserve a second of your time, or a modicum of your thought.

Your time and thoughts are more valuable stuff than that.

Fuck 'em, and don't ever let them grind you down.

And then, there's always the whole matter of you being tall, slender, a redhead and hot... and that's more than a little something in your favor.

You're my favorite. I hope that "Bainbridge" is the best thing that you've ever written, but even if it isn't by YOUR standards, I'm still going to read it when I can. The effort that you're putting into it now, the frustration and the other things, those won't be wasted. I know they'll eventually be appreciated, for whatever that might be worth.


All the best.

Dec. 25th, 2005 05:06 am (UTC)
(Hint for the assholes: You do not have to tell me what I already know.)

I'll keep my comments brief then.

As long as you keep your fists up and refuse to stay on the mat, you'll never lose. You are bloodied but unbowed. That alone is worth much admiration and congratulations. You may feel that you go into the ring alone, but there are plenty of us all around cheering for you.

No, I don't know why I ran with the boxing metaphors.

This morning, there's a woman walking on a beach someplace warm. I have to go now and lead her into the sea.

There's something in these simple sentences that suggest that you wouldn't mind taking her hand and joining her in such a dreadful end. Please don't.
Dec. 25th, 2005 05:13 am (UTC)
I don't know if sympathy is any better than assholery, but:

I can feel the story in my head, can see a character or some particular scene, can hear some snatch of dialogue, but when I try to put it down, the words aren't there. And I sit here and stare at the screen and wish I were anywhere else doing anything else.

Oh, hell yes. This is the core of why I've never managed to finish a piece of fiction over twenty-five pages. It's all either postcards or a movie trailer. Point A is fantastic and looks great on paper. Point B is even more fantastic, and point C will bering tears to the readers' eyes.

But... those long, sere stretches of highway between the points makes those points look like one-pump gas stations on dirt roads in the Mojave.

(So I wimp out and write poetry. Or reviews. Because a first draft of either can usually be done in one sitting.)
Dec. 25th, 2005 05:14 am (UTC)
...and forgive the typos, please, for they are legion.
Dec. 25th, 2005 06:58 am (UTC)
Just because someone somewhere has it worse off than you, doesn't mean you're shitting sunshine. Or have no right to complain. If that were true, there'd be only one person on the planet who could.
Dec. 25th, 2005 06:07 pm (UTC)
That's a freaking GREAT icon, BTW.

All the best.

Dec. 25th, 2005 02:50 pm (UTC)
If it means anything, there was a time a few years ago when I gave up on trying to find decent books that were new. Everything I enjoyed reading seemed like it was written at least thirty plus years ago. One day I saw Threshold at Barnes and Noble, liked the quote that Neil Gaiman had said on the cover of it, and bought it without knowing just what I was getting myself into. That book opened my eyes to the fact that writing fiction does not have to follow a simple diagram from point A to point B. That it could, in fact, be daring and bold, and toss the reader around a bit, all without losing the emotion of the story or the characters. It changed forever the way I look at books and it gave me the inspiration to start writing a few things of my own again. Since that time I've bought nearly everything you've ever done (the only exception right now being The Dreaming stuff). I think I own most of your books in every form possible: ARC, limited editions, mass market editions, etc. Every chapbook. Everything I can get my anxious little hands on.

Basically, you changed the way I view the world. And you brought back the wonder in reading that I had only previous felt as a child with my father's copy of The Hobbit. So, thank you. And you rock my world.
Dec. 28th, 2005 09:00 pm (UTC)
i'm way behind in all my reading so i've not read the rest of the comments. i just wanted to say that pretty much everyone has to force themselves to work at leas some time. if there were more intelligent, motivated people in the world who can make scenes they see in their mind come alive on paper with words the way you can there would be that many more writers in the world. if that makes any sense to any other than myself. i enjoy your writing and i enjoy reading your blog/livejournal whatever you wish to call it. the people who complain about what you say, as you know, are people who can not have any kind of empathy for other people and who do not realize that even someone's dream job is still just that, a job. i don't care how much any particular person loves their job they are going to have days where they wonder if they've made the right decision and days when they just can't bring themselves to accomplish much, if anything unless they're constantly hopped up on something that never lessens in its effect. in essence these are people who, i fear, would have trouble thinking their way out of a paper bag. if that's any solace to you. in any event it is still very difficult to hear about, read about, find out about people who think you have it easy and for some unknown reason feel the need to deride (i'm not totally sure if that's the world i'm looking for, but it's the best i can come up with at the moment) you, because obviously they have it much worse. i don't think this is going anywhere near where i wanted it to go. sorry about that. maybe you don't get enough praise, or maybe you're somewhat like me (oh, i hope not. i'm pretty f'd in the head at times) you dwell on the criticism and gloss over the praise. i tend to do that because praise makes me uneasy. you do really good work and that's partly the problem. huge successes are palatable to millions and millions of people. the "problem" with your work is that you need a brain to appreciate it and the older i get the more i realize that the majority of humans do not. sometimes i think humans have mostly taken natural selection out of the mix. another problem is that people most often hear only about the mega successful writers and assume that all writers get those deals and sell that many books and are millionaires. i'm going to end it here before i cause you to commit suicide from reading this.
( 21 comments — Have your say! )