A psychological interlude

I want to give up on this whole writing thing. I have said it out loud, and I still don’t feel any better there. Every day is a constant battle between what I “think” I should be doing and what my body will physically allow me to do.

As my therapist used to say to me, who is to say I should be doing anything? The answer is me, or at least the little voice in the back of my mind that dictates how I should spend my time and then makes me feel guilty about not spending my time that way. If I had the money or access to the necessary scientific resources, I would love to discover where that voice comes from. I can’t say if I would have it removed, but that is a problem for another day.

My real fear is, what would happen if I gave it up? Just walk away and let my life be what it is until the final curtain falls. Realistically, I have only just begun the “Middle act”, but I don’t know if that’s enough reason to carry on punishing myself with complex emotional states.

For all my time in therapy, this was the one thing that was never truly resolved. There were suggestions on how I should go about handling it. Advice that, in all honesty, I paid lip service to and promptly ignored. Those weren’t the issues which had driven me to seek psychological help in the first place. I didn’t have the emotional fortitude to take them on as well.

The whole thing is a locked chest in my mind’s storage space. Before, it was just another Lemarchand’s box in an attic full of them, but as I began clearing up the room and disarming the other dangerous puzzle boxes… Well, that’s the only dangerous one left. It sits there, taunting me to come along and play with it.

Other things have happened in my life this week, but none are really all that important or worth discussing. This was just a train of thought I had to ride to its natural conclusion. I don’t know if I feel any better about it or if a course of action has presented itself to me. Still, at least a little of the mental pressure has been alleviated and I managed to sneak in a Hellraiser reference!

Hopefully, we will be back to your regularly scheduled programming next week.

Quitting While I’m Ahead!

As Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, and I am currently stuck somewhere in-between. Last Friday, I achieved a long-held dream and SOLD a short story and pretty much every day since then, I have been stuck in some kind of mental free fall. It’s now getting to the point where I can’t even write this post without procrastinating and changing my mind over just about every word.

I just finished The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and more notably, I understood it without having to have read the Cliff notes. While the parts relating to women’s struggles was only an intellectual understanding, I emotionally understood everything about her mental health and its eventual collapse. In the end, the only things I had to look up related to the period and the ….I want to say science…but let’s be honest, it was anything but!

The above may have looked like a swerve, but it honestly just pushed its way to the front of my mind and demanded my fingers brag about it on the internet. Speaking of the internet, I think I have a grip on my eBay problems. Well, not so much a grip, as that I have agreed with myself about buying a pile of comics at the start of each month and then leaving the app alone.

There has to come to a point where I have to stop denying who I am or risk ending up frustrated and miserable. Which actually nicely leads nicely back to the…

The successful submission was a slasher story I had honestly forgotten about writing. There is no way to express how much I love Slasher movies. They combine the mystery of a delicious “Who done it?” with the blood-soaked abandon you only get from a horror movie.

Which clearly translated into the work. “You succeeded because you were enjoying what you were writing”. Something which should have been obvious, but that I didn’t even consider until it was pointed out to me. Maybe trying new things or seeing what I am good at will only ever end in failure if I don’t get some element of joy out of work.

Why write an Urban Fantasy or Historical Romance if you don’t enjoy them? Surely you are just wasting your time and setting yourself up for failure. Actually, there is no supposition about it. I have a pile of rejection letters as proof. I need to stick to what I know and love. Looking back at my time with What Culture, I made sale after sale because I was talking about comics.

So why is the acceptance hitting me so hard? Because it puts me in place I am unfamiliar with. A place where people can see me and judge me. It also triggers a strange phycological mechanism in me, which means I have to punish myself for my own success. That I can’t allow myself to be happy because it will leave me vulnerable to some kind of attack.

Life has taught me that it’s not a good thing when you end up on some emotional high. It just means you will have further to fall when the time comes. Its left me in a place where even the idea of writing anything is both daunting and scary. I am doing everything I can to avoid putting fingers to keys.

In truth, I am frightened of my own success, which begs the question, how can I succeed at something when the very nature of that success is what scares the hell out of me?

I have to wonder if the apparent parallel’s between the character in The Bell Jar and myself are not somehow the running theme of this entire post. Maybe I should just be grateful I am not seeing similarities between myself, Patrick Bateman, or Norman Bates.

My Back Hurts And Other Complaints!

My back hurts, my throat is sore, and there is far too much work which needs doing. Work that I just can’t be bothered with, if I am being honest. With any luck, my back is just a result of the awkward position I am slumped in. My throat has been sore for a few days now, and I hope nothing comes of it, but if it could make up its mind either way, I would appreciate it.

The only real problem is the work and my lack of motivation. The day job is an endless stream of issues that can’t be fixed because I don’t have access to the relevant machines. As a colleague put it, “I am debugging by proxy”, and as any developer worth his salt will know, that is not a situation you want to find yourself in!

The work I can actually get started on is constantly being interrupted, and progress is frustratingly slow. The fact that I will take any excuse to walk away from my current sprint item isn’t helping anyone, to be fair. Hopefully, once these few “blockers” are cleared up, I will be more inclined to get things closed off and out of the way. I say hopefully, but knowing myself as well as I do, I don’t hold much faith on that score.

Outside work, I am trying to get myself back on track and away from eBay. Beyond finishing all the comics I purchased this month, I am back to reading prose fiction and hopefully writing more. I am down to my last seven issues, that’s only a couple of hours one night or a few meetings one day!

Having gotten to the end of Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name Of The Wind, I can say it’s one of the most overrated books I have ever read. Don’t get me wrong; their is nothing “technically” wrong with it, but it all felt very bland and safe. It put me in mind of the Earthsea books by Ursula Le Guin but only in so much as Twilight by Stephanie Meyer put me in mind of Dracula!

I got a clutch of “shorter” novels from the library. The first of the lot to be devoured was Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and I am now thoroughly engrossed in Chocky by John Wyndham.

Gwendy’s Button Box was two hours were well spent, which is a beautiful segue, into the length of time my last submission took to get rejected by the good folks at The People’s Friend. The only thing that was quicker than the rejection was my bitterness. Once I had it pointed out to me, there was no way anyone really read it in that short a length of time; I worked out it was rejected based on word count.

The submission guidelines state that stories can be 1,2 or 3 thousand words. So a story that is 2.4K is just wrong and proof that I need to spend more time reading the guidelines before blindly submitting. The frustrating part is that I can’t find enough “padding” to get it up to 3k, and nothing that I can take out would get me down to 2k.

Maybe I will have more luck with the piece of romantic fiction I started writing on Friday. We can but wait and see.

Six Months In

My original plan was to do a review of the last six months as it relates to my writing. Only the past few weeks, my writing has been all but non-existent. As a matter of fact, I have pretty much-done everything I can to distract myself from writing.

Double down at work, splurging on eBay and building a database for my comic book collection have all taken my focus. Throw in reading everything I have bought and ordering every Hellboy and Hellblazer book the local library has. You can see the hours in my day begin to fill up.

Am I doing these things to distract myself or because I would rather be doing them? Part of me knows my worries are nonsensical and that I should just do whatever makes me happy. But there is another part of me which wants me to remember that these things aren’t long term goals. Instead, they are ways for you to get immediate gratification.

Why spend months writing a novel only to have it rejected when you could create a database that is fit for purpose now? This brings me back to my old friend, fear. Why bother doing something you MIGHT fail at when you can do something you WILL succeed at! Seeing it written down makes the statement pretty jarring, to be honest.

Maybe seeing what I have done these past six months will motivate me. It might encourage me to run screaming for the hills and spend the rest of my days refining my comic book database. But at least it will give me a sense of momentum, which is something.

ProjectStatus
Diet Riot Short StoryRejected
Camp Slasher Lake Short StorySubmitted
The Librarian Short StorySubmitted
Trembling With Fear Flash Fiction X 3Published
Reader Beware Short StorySubmitted
Cosmic Horror Short StoryRejected
Fantasy Short StoryRejected
Tales To Terrify Flash FictionSubmitted
Mystery Magazine Short StoryRejected

Damm! That’s actually quite a lot of work! Plus, there are a couple of stories that got finished but were never submitted and one which is one Beat-Read away from being sent.

While there are a lot of “Rejected”, that is still a awful lot of words on a page. Just because one magazine/website said, no doesn’t mean it won’t be suitable for another. Plus, there are three small “Published”‘s on that list.

Maybe I will be ready to tackle an actual novel come to the end of the year! If nothing else, my comics will be perfectly organized, and I will stop buying duplicates of eBay due to shoddy record-keeping!

Ng-Update

I am sitting in the rubble of various work projects, frustrated that I can’t progress them and simultaneously excited about getting past these blockers and onto the actual work. It has been so long since I had that particular feeling that I am finding it a bit jarring.

The last few years have been a bit of a mixed blessing professionally. Just before the lockdown, I started working for a new company. To call the environment toxic would be a disservice to the men and women working diligently to produce harmful and poisonous chemicals. In truth, those few years beat the love I once had for my day job right out of me.

My current job has been quite the opposite. It has really reignited my passion for code. Especially when it comes to front end development and Angular. I will never have any love for CSS, but my passion for JavaScript and Frameworks like Angular are at an all-time high.

The natural “profit of doom” in me is waiting for everything to go wrong. For the proverbial “Other shoe” to drop and crush me. The number of people leaving the company is not helping matters much. Actually, that’s not the issue, people always leave their jobs, It’s the lack of replacements that is becoming an issue.

The idea I might find myself in a position of having to leave for reasons beyond the financial or political is pretty disheartening. For a while, I thought the only way I would leave this company was to retire or become a full-time writer!

The only thing bothering me more is the distinct lack of sunshine we seem to have in this country. Part of the blame must indeed lie with me. Since building a deck in the back garden, it has done nothing but rain.

Ok, that’s not entirely accurate, but “cloudy and cold” could be said to describe Scotland at any point in the year. If nothing else, at least we are getting more daylight!

What is rather strange is that I am thinking about coding in my spare time. Starting to work on a “Project” of my own. I don’t think I would ever have the time or resources to release it as a commercial application. Still, I love the idea of just tinkering on something in my spare time to polish up the skills I am developing during my working day.

So where does all of the above leave “Kevin the writer”? That’s a question I have been asking myself a lot over the past few weeks. Is my recent rekindled romance with software engineering just an excuse to avoid writing? Or is the reverse true? Could I have been using creative writing to alleviate boredom and malaise with my chosen career?

The answer is, I have no godly clue. I have written the first drafts of two new stories in the past couple of weeks. One for Peoples Friend Magazine and another for a flash fiction competition. Both are good, at least I think they are, but I strongly suspect neither is suitable for their respective submission calls.

The flash fiction stems from a misunderstanding of the guidelines, or at the very least, not a strong enough tie to them. That said, I THINK I might be able to sell this story at a later stage. I am not sure if that is confidence or hubris; only time will tell.

The Peoples Friend submission is let down by its ending. The guidelines specifically state that stories shouldn’t have downbeat endings. Which this one “kind off” has. You could argue that it’s really up to the individual reader to interpret the conclusion of my story and how downbeat it is. Still, I am not confident enough in myself to make said argument.

I am skipping my usual writer’s group to attend another Golden Egg masterclass, this one on children’s picture books. Which I think is going to be the next thing I undertake as a writer. As I have said countless times, this year is about experimenting with my prose and discovering what I am good at and, more importantly, what I enjoy.

As for reading, the mountain of comic books floating around my home constantly fluctuates, and I am going through a bit of a “Hellboy” renaissance. Still, as my local library only has so many books, I suspect it won’t last. As for prose, I am still reading through “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss.

An improvement of sorts

It’s been a bit of a funny time these past few weeks. I seem to be losing my focus on writing and doubling down on my “professional” career, becoming somewhat obsessed with Angular programming.

Working my way through the various Pluralsight training courses and putting them into real-world projects has, in many ways, reaffirmed my love for software development. I feel like I am doing something NEW and different instead of just repeating the work I have already done. Or worse yet, work others have done, and I am just “Improving” upon.

Being in that headspace where I am unsure of the validity or quality of what I am doing is scary and exhilarating. It’s also resulted in my attention wandering into other areas, such as game dev. Not in any severe manner, but I have played around with Roblox Studio and watched Unity tutorials.

The irony of having lost my passion for actual gaming in the past year has not been lost upon me. Except for a couple of games, my PlayStation has become little more than a dust-covered paperweight. I am hoping the lack of “MUST PLAY” titles stems from the transition from PS4 to PS5, and said potential titles just haven’t been released yet.

At least, I hope that is the case; otherwise, I am just getting too old for gaming and will have to move on to something more age-appropriate. I don’t know what, but I suspect it’s gardening or antiquing. Neither of which strikes me as viable ways to spend my twilight years. I write the above trying to avoid looking at the mountains of half-built and partially painted models and miniatures surrounding me.

A piece of flash fiction I wrote was published this month. And have another due to be published on the 8th of May. So I should be more enthused with the state of my writing career. Still, for some reason, I just cannot find the desire to move on to another project or, for that matter, finish an existing one. My fantasy short story managed to be run through Grammarly last week, and that’s pretty much it.

I also wasn’t able to attend this month’s writer’s forum. However, it was for actual practical reasons and not through some self-sabotage or general malaise in that instance. As a parent, you sometimes have to be responsible for your own children; who would have thought it!?!?!

The lack of responses to any of my submissions, apart from the flash fiction mentioned above, is not helping my enthusiasm. It is starting to feel like I am moving backwards and that I am now not even worth the effort of a rejection letter. I wonder if that is even a thing? Can you actually get worse at something the more your practice it?

There is a joke about masturbation in that last statement, but I just can’t quite make it work.

Add Title

Here in Britain, the weather can’t decide what it wants to do. I am far colder than I really should be at this time of year. Especially as we have had weather recently where I have been able to go around in shorts and a t-shirt! To those who still think Climate Change isn’t a thing, I can only assume you are either wilfully ignorant or plain old crazy. Either way, you have my sympathies.

Beyond the weather, my problems are related to my physical health rather than its mental counterpart. I have had this strange cold for over a week now, and it refuses to bugger off. On the plus side, it’s not COVID. I suspect it’s a chest infection and will require antibiotics. Still, I need to arrange an appointment with my GP to get an actual diagnosis.

My day job is ticking along steadily, with my commitment to a given task going through the usual psychological ebb and flow depending upon: the problem’s difficulty, lethargy, how many people are shouting for it, how long I have been at it, and the ever significant interest in it I have.

I know that’s not a good way to be looking at my primary source of income, but it’s the truth, and if I can’t be honest with the great void that is the internet, then who can I be honest with.

I am giving some serious thought to upgrading here from a free WordPress site to a full-blown webpage again. Not because I get enough traffic to warrant such a change or that my fledgling writing career requires it. The truth is, I would just be doing it because I want to. I have the domain name, I regularly post here, and the cost is a cup of coffee a month.

Before numbness overtakes and keystrokes become an impossibility, I am pleased to say that I have finally gotten the first draft of my fantasy story done. My original plan was an action-driven, deep blue hero tale. I ended up with a story of existential dread and the nature of immortality. Make no mistake, it’s actually really rather good; it’s just not what I thought I was going to write in the first place.

I see the story being dictated by the characters and their world as a positive thing. It’s also relatively short and will undoubtedly shrink further after a few editorial passes. I still can’t tell if it’s saleable, but I don’t think any aspiring writer can. You are at the whims of the markets, editors, publishers and in some cases, the peculiarities of random email servers.

So that leaves my “Things to attempt” list with; Literary, pulp and children’s fiction. Once all of those have been cleared, I am unsure what I will do next, but I can’t wait to find out. I was reading the liner notes of a Counting Crows best-of compilation and now all I can think about writing is a biography of a fictional band.

Another thing I have been meaning to do here is talk about what I am reading. I spend a great deal of time going on about what I am going to be writing or what I am about to purchase, but for some reason, I never mention which books I am reading that week. I don’t think I could write a full-on review each week, but maybe just dedicate a paragraph to the current novel and my thoughts on it.

But that sounds dangerously close to the planning, and that’s not really my bag. I prefer flying by the seat of my pants and hoping I won’t break too many bones when I crash land.

Not Twenty Any More

I have spent the better part of this week in my twenties, and I will be honest, I didn’t really enjoy it. Everyone in my house had gone to London and left me on my own, and like any rational adult, I took the week off work.

With no one to bother me, a stacked pile of junk food and enough money to eat out every meal, I was all set to do anything. What I, in fact, did was nothing. I had such heady plans, but when faced with the opportunity to spend time with no sense of accountability, I reverted straight back to living like a man with no responsibilities.

I played PlayStation, read comics (Admittedly, it was Watchmen), watched horror movies and lay around on the couch. If I am being honest, it’s actually making me sad to see it written down like that. The only saving grace is I am not angry with myself for wasting time, far from it. It has given me a moment of clarity and brought all the good things in my life into sharp relief.

Today, I am back at work, trying to pick up the pieces after my holiday. I am pleasantly surprised at the lack of fires I have put out. I wish I could say it was down to careful planning, I could take time off and NOT have my holiday interrupted or return to unhappy colleagues. In truth it was sheer blind luck.

That’s not a self-deprecating take on the situation, either. It’s just how everything panned out for me. There are days I have to check I don’t have a rabbit’s foot stuck to my ass, and this is one of them. I do worry that potential problems just haven’t arisen YET, and they will come back to bite me in the backside a little further down the road.

I think I will keep this short as I clearly have nothing to talk about. To be honest, it doesn’t even seem like this post warrants the time it takes to spell check and proofread it, but I always feel better for getting all the thoughts in my head out. It’s a bit like a psychological exorcism, as pretentious as that sounds.

That last line also reminds me that this is not just a place to express myself. It’s a place where I can get regular writing practice and hopefully help me strengthen my authorial voice. I actually think I have found it after all these years, and it’s not as grating or nasally as I worried it might be.

The fact that said voice doesn’t have a spitting problem like myself or Sylvester The Cat has when saying specific phrases is just the icing on the cake. Maybe if I had the attention of a larger audience, I would find myself getting bullied for different reasons in the metaverse. Still, the physical world has made my hide thick enough. I hope.

Stuck Between Stations

If I don’t write this now, I think I will go insane. I am stuck between where I need to be and where I want to be. Being a programmer provides a comfortable life for my family and me. More importantly, I can tolerate it most days. Believe me, I have had much worse jobs. The company I currently work for is probably the best of my professional career. I genuinely like the people I work with.

The head knows what I need to do, what I MUST do. The problem is my heart won’t shut the f*@k up and let me get on with my life. If it did, I wouldn’t be here writing this, I guess.

My heart wants to be a writer more than it ever has. To make matters worse, it has somehow gotten hold of my “drive” and is actively pushing me towards this goal like it never has before. I suspect this is helped by clearing out my mental baggage, but that is a side issue. I am an active member of the writing community. I am planning, writing and submitting short stories. I have become ever more aware of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

I would sign up for a “professional” writing course with someone like Golden Egg if I had disposable income.

The problem is that everything connected to my being a writer is based upon belief, unlike my being a programmer, which is a fact. Will people pay me to code? Yes, and very well. Will people pay me to write? Maybe but only a little. Can I look at my code and KNOW it’s good? Yes, and if it’s not, I can refactor it. Can I look at a piece of prose and KNOW it’s good? Not really; the best I can say is, “It’s better than the last thing I wrote”.

I think that’s the biggest problem in my life right now, trying to reconcile the difference between fantasy and reality. For some reason, I can accept that I am a good programmer, but I will never be Bill Gates, but I can’t take that I am a mediocre writer and will never be Neil Gaiman.

I honestly wish I could. More than anything, I would just like to be content, but for some reason, that sense of peace is the one thing that has always eluded me. I guess there might be some merit in “Not measuring myself by my career”, but it’s the only thing I have in my life that’s mine and mine alone. As a by-product of that, my family is provided for but is that all I am living for?

Maybe I have just left it too late in life to discover this kind of drive? Perhaps being more committed in my 20s, I would have an answer and not constantly chase that “What if?” like a thirsty man in a desert. Practically that wasn’t an option back then, but that doesn’t change the realities of my current situation.

I swear I just ran out of momentum, my train of thought has just run out of coal and is now stuck between stations. I think I should probably just finish up here. I think this post pretty accurately sum’s up my current problem, stuck between where I need to be and where I want to be.

I should get back to work and finish the code I have been ducking and lying about for the better part of a week. A job I don’t necessarily want is always preferable to no job.

A Few Words At The End Of The Day

A moment ago, I had opened a new post and then closed it immediately as I didn’t think I had anything I wanted to say. Somehow in that split second, I convinced myself that I did. Maybe it’s because I only have half an hour left of work and nothing that I can really do in that time. Or perhaps it’s because I haven’t posted anything on here in a while. Either way, I thought it was time to put my fingers on the keyboard and see what I could come up with.

My mental health is slowly getting back on track. It’s not exactly “stable” , but at least it’s controllable. I am back with my therapist and working through the last few years of my demons. Once I have EMDR’d all the old ghosts, I think I will keep up with counselling. The end goal is to get me off my meds.

This has been pretty much a pipe dream up until now because I wasn’t addressing the underlying problems. The drugs just made it easier to cope with them, but as soon as I came off the medication, they would pop back up and devour me. I actually feel lighter after every session, I know that might sound insane, but I assure you it’s true!

Work continues to be a strange place; I am in a situation where I have to “Step up” due to the absence of leadership in my team. If I am honest, I suspect my boss wants me to “lead” full time. But that’s not something I am interested in, even though it might get me out of working with a language that’s outside of my wheelhouse.

I am coping so well with staff shortages, and I am very proud of having to wear multiple hats. It seems like yesterday I was a junior developer trying to deal with “Imposter syndrome” and constantly worrying I would be sacked on the spot. Make no mistake, I know I am not the next Bill Gates. Still, confidence in your own abilities should never be underappreciated.

My writing has gone through a been a bit of a strange time as well. On the one hand, I have two short stories almost ready to submit but I also I received a rejection letter that dented my confidence significantly. The ironic thing is I didn’t even think the magazine I submitted the story to would have any interest in it! But for some reason, the “Thanks but no thanks” really knocked me for six.

Next on my list of “Things to try year” are writing an action-driven fantasy story, a slice of life story and a romantic comedy. I have been a fantasy fan most of my life, playing D&D, Warhammer and countless computer RPGs. Still, I recently realized apart from Brandon Sanderson, Tolkien and Dragonlance, I don’t actually read much in the genre. So I coupled that with my propensity toward writing talky, introverted stories to see if I could kill two birds with one stone.

The romantic comedy is much easier. I have been watching those movies and have no doubt I can write in that genre. The problem will come in doing something original enough to sustain my interest through the process. It’s the slice of life story that really scares me. It’s one thing to say I will write such a thing but quite another to actually pull it off and make it enjoyable.

There is one other super-secret project I am working on that I will only mention as I wrote it this week. It’s a fairy tale that I plan on self-publishing. Still, as it will only have a print run of one copy, I am not worried about its intended audience rejecting it. Maybe hitting me with it, but not rejecting it.

The only other thing I have to say is how significant a debt do the Kings of Leon owe to The Magic Numbers!