Good Enough

I have a problem. Marlee says I’m addicted to workahol, but that’s not it. I work hard because I’m driven, but I’m driven because nothing is good enough. Therein lies the problem.

Smarter people than I have written about the many problems of social media [citation needed], but the problem for me is that I find myself comparing my work/career/success to the gestalt of Writer Twitter. They are constantly being nominated for awards. They are constantly winning awards. They constantly appear on bestseller lists. They constantly get starred reviews, and film/TV deals, and a million other opportunities. In short, whatever successes ‘They’ have, my sick, broken brain sees only in terms of what I don’t have.

This is ridiculous. This is unhelpful. This is incredibly damaging to my mental health. This is also utter bullshit. On the one hand, how fucking entitled is my subconscious being? And on the other hand, I’m comparing my singular self to a group of writers, including some who have been at it for years, or even decades.

Now, beyond the entitlement and the unfair comparisons (which are two entirely different brands of bullshit), the other side effect here is that I do not enjoy the (objectively many) successes I have had. I want to blame Australia’s tall poppy syndrome (and, let’s be honest, my depression), because I find it impossible to celebrate any of my successes for fear of being seen as a conceited arsehole. But, that’s only half of it. I also can’t celebrate because nothing is good enough. I celebrated signing the contracts for Killing Gravity and Void Black Shadow, but everything since then has been…I don’t know. Good, but not good enough, I guess.

So, I’m going to do something difficult, and I’m going to celebrate my successes in an effort to rewire my broken brain. Please don’t think I’m a conceited arsehole, because this is actually entirely unnatural for me. Here goes…

  • I have a trilogy of novellas with an incredible imprint attached to one of the biggest SF publishers in the world. Seriously, Tor.com Publishing is putting out some of my favourite books right now, and they also chose to publish me. Multiple times.
  • Over five thousand people have parted with their hard-earned money for a copy of Killing Gravity. Some of them even liked it. (Honestly, this is one I struggle with because it seems so small a number compared to…I don’t even know what. But hell, it’s my very first book, in a niche format, so 5K is a number I should be proud of. If you’re one of those 5K, thank you. It means the world to me.)
  • Warren Ellis, one of my favourite writers, took time out of his busy schedule to read and review both Killing Gravity and Void Black Shadow.
  • I signed with Martha Millard, the literary agent who represents William fucking Gibson, Ian McDonald, Michael Swanwick, and other well-known and well-respected figures in science-fiction. (Cadwell Turnbull is another early career author that Martha signed, and I feel like he’s going to be A Big Deal down the track, so check out his work now and get on board early.)
  • I’ve had the opportunity to go on tour with the likes of Terry Brooks and some other fantastic local and international authors.
  • And other exciting stuff that I can’t even talk about yet. Seriously, some big news that I should be fucking ecstatic about, but depression broke my brain.

Killing Gravity only came out thirteen months ago (give or take). That’s no time at all. My career has barely even begun, and if I let myself relax for one fucking  second I’ll realise that things are already looking bright. So maybe, just maybe, I should cut myself some fucking slack. Maybe self-loathing isn’t a healthy motivator. Maybe, if I try, I’ll find a better way.

Sorry, Marlee, I don’t think I’m going to work any less, but what I will do is try and enjoy where I’m at right now, instead of beating myself up about where I “should” be.

Killing the Blank Page

As if proving what I said in my last post, Warren Ellis offered this piece of writing advice in his latest newsletter:

The only screenwriting “trick” I have is a tip picked up from John Rogers, who you probably know best from having co-devised and produced the show LEVERAGE. He builds every stage of the story from the one before.  Rewrites the beat outline into the treatment.  Rewrites the treatment into the screenplay.  Just pastes it in and starts working with it. This particular job is the next stage of a treatment I wrote earlier in the year.  It’s 5000 words long, twelve pages.  The pleasure of this approach is that, after the roughest of outlines, you’re never working with a blank page.  Just expanding and adapting (and fixing!) what you’ve already done.

I make notes at the top of every story document.  Usually just two things.  What’s it about, and what does each character want?  It’s simple and simplistic, and doesn’t contain the entirety of the work in any way, but in a rigorously structured thing, it can help me keep on track.

 

From the latest Orbital Operations.

He’s talking specifically about screenwriting here, but it’ll work for prose too. If you’re the kind of writer who plans, split that outline up into (possible) chapters, and either space them out in your Word doc, or paste them into a separate Scrivener page (?) and build from there.

Another trick I use, is to put points I want to reach, or currently-disconnected thoughts in [square brackets], and write to them, deleting the bracketed thought once it’s been implemented into the manuscript. I prefer square brackets because they’re not generally used in prose (whereas regular brackets can be used for asides), which makes them stand out more as you’re scrolling through a document, and makes it easy for you to Search for these thought/idea seeds.

Personally the blank page isn’t much of a block for me, but I know it can stall a lot of writers when they’re starting a new project, so these couple of tricks can help to dirty that page up and give you an excuse to just start, get that first draft down, and worry about improving it later.

Excitement

Two exciting things have happened recently, one of which I’d been meaning to post about for a while.

 

First, I signed with literary agent Martha Millard at Sterling Lord Literistic, based in NYC. Martha reached out to me after reading Killing Gravity, was super enthusiastic, and had some great advice for me in regards to turning this little book of mine into an actual writing career. Martha’s been in the business for a long time, and represents some big names in science fiction, like William Gibson and Ian McDonald. If you’d told teenage-me with his nose buried in Neuromancer that I’d one day share an agent with Gibson, I would not have believed you.

The second thing is that Warren Ellis was kind enough to find time in his consistently-crazy work schedule to write up a couple of paragraphs about Killing Gravity in his Orbital Operations newsletter.

I’ve been a fan of Warren Ellis’ comics, prose, and newsletters for a long time now, so this means the world to me. (And if you think ‘being a fan’ of a newsletter is a bit weird, you’ve obviously never subscribed to one of Warren’s. You’ll get everything from political, sociopolitical, and technological commentary, to recipes, to ‘reviews’ of books and films, music recommendations, the occasional blistering rant, and gems of writing advice. I’d say his insights into the writing process are invaluable for any writer, but particularly for anyone with aspirations to write in the comics field.)

Now, if you’ve somehow discovered my work before Warren’s, then let me make some recommendations. As far as prose goes, Normal is fantastic. It’s a 2016 novella put out by FSG, and it’s Warren at his abyss-gazingly best: hints of William Gibson’s Blue Ant trilogy and Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy (to me at least), with characters that could only have emerged from Ellis’ mind, and a sort of technological paranoia/perversion that seems a perfect response to the surveillance capialism of today.

For a look at the sort of ‘thinking out loud’ you get in Warren’s newsletters, you can’t go past Do Anything, which I could try and describe, but would probably fail – so instead, click here.

And in the comics realm, there is so much to choose from. Some personal favourites though:

  • Black Summer – a superhero decides the President of the United States is a war criminal beyond redemption who needs to be killed. But that’s not the arc of the comic, that’s the opening few pages. Was written as a response to George W. Bush deceiving the Western world into a fucked up war in Iraq, but will probably still appeal to people today who like the idea of POTUS being slain.
  • Desolation Jones – Ellis’ take on the classic ‘noir detective in LA’ genre, but where the detective is a former British spy who lost all fear and human empathy after being subjected to a particularly fucked up experiment, and who is on the trail of Hitler’s personal porn stash.
  • Global Frequency – a fantastic series of connected sci-fi one-offs. A TV pilot was filmed, and it’s criminal that it was never picked up – it had the potential to be something akin to Person of Interest meets Fringe.
  • Trees & Injection are two newer series, that have a couple of volumes each so far and are shaping up to be some of the best SF comics of the 2010s.
  • And if you’re more of a superhero person, Ellis’ runs on Stormwatch, Authority, and Planetary are some of the best super stuff you’re going to find.

So yeah, exciting times. But that’s enough for now. I’ve got a book to write and another book to edit. Take care of yourself, and those closest to you.

Don’t be afraid of the future…

Warren Ellis posted a talk he gave last year in Dublin to his ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter – which you should sign up for. If you’re interested in the modern science fictional condition, it’s required reading.

We just need to keep telling the folklore.  Using the language.  Tell the stories.  There’s no such thing as future shock.  It turns out that we’re all much stronger than we ever gave ourselves credit for.   We dealt with gods and monsters, so by god we can deal with the space eels.  We adapt.  Everything tells us that we should be overwhelmed by our accelerating future that’s happening faster than we can prepare for.  But Stewart Brand said “we are as gods and might as well get good at it,” and he said that forty-seven years ago, the year I was born.  And we are monsters, and might as well admit it: we’re pursuit predators who can heal almost any wound, show up just when you think we’ve gone away, and we’ll attempt to have sex with pretty much anything in the universe.  Don’t be afraid of the future.  We will never die, we can do everything we ever want, and we love stories more than anything.  Stories are magic, magic is science, and science is what makes us human.   Don’t be bored, and don’t be afraid.  Have a drink.  Sit around the pool in the clearing.  The future is coming, and we’re going to win.

The whole things is here.

Lich House – Warren Ellis

I’ve long been a fan of Warren Ellis – his thinking in public, his creator-owned comics, and his novels and novellas. That said though, Lich House is perhaps my favourite thing that he has written. Presented as part of the Institute of the Future in 2013, it’s a phenomenal story; beautiful descriptions that drip with the sort of tactile body-horror Cronenberg used to bring to cinema, but in a completely unique post-cybperunk setting.

Excerpt:

The white room is bleeding to death.

A white vestibule, with white floors and white walls and a lit white ceiling. The only other color is red. A crack in one wall, exposing a raw fistula in the bioelectric packeting. Blood leaks from the hole, down three inches of slick white wall, to pool on the floor. A broken heart in the interstitial net of veins and wires that makes our houses live and breathe.

Somebody has murdered the house.

Read the whole thing at Boing Boing.