I need to write something this evening. Tonight, I’m not getting the fiction vibes. Perfect, it’s time to reflect on the week, and this has been quite a good one.
(Note, this is a Friday night draft. Vodka was involved again. Saturday saw this modified and posted, with slightly more sobriety.)
I got back from my holiday in Berlin last Friday (I’ll reserve another blog post to cover what I got up to on that trip), ran my first ‘trail’ half marathon last Sunday, and in the meantime kept to my resolve that when this time off was over, I was going to get back to working on my manuscript every day. That’s not to say I’m adding lots of wordcount every day, but so far that’s been happening too. Since I resolved to try and finish what’s now draft 2.5 of Deception Crossing (Talent Show Book 3) by November, I figured a bit of consistency was needed. I’m back in the game.
Around the same time, fellow indie author Anthony Vicino emerged from a year long hibernation and announced he’s launching the sequel I’ve been waiting for in November. He’s also been prolific on the motivational blog posts lately. I admit, I usually avoid motivation gurus, self-help books and posts by those who’ve got on that train. But for an author whose return to the game I’ve been acutely interested in, I decided to make an exception.
The first thing I realised after reading a few of these posts is that the reason I avoid them is that I already feel like I’m quite good at doing half the stuff in them. I used to think it was a bit of a looking down my nose at the minions who still need all that crap thing, but then I realised something else: I think a lot of people who like these sorts of posts are exactly the same – they like it because they already got motivated, and that stuff rings true like the clearest bell in the church tower. The popularity of motivational posts lies a lot (although I’ll concede not exclusively) in preaching to the converted.
But before you call me a dick, here’s lesson number three: there’s really nothing wrong with giving a sermon to those who already attend every Sunday, or every time a ‘New Post’ email lands in our box. Why else do we show up, if not partly for the things that are a familiar comfort to us? But here’s a better thought: even the converted sometimes need a reminder of their own strength.
I can point to a number of successes I’ve had in my life in the last couple of years. Hell, I got this medal last weekend. It’s got a dragon it!
I’ve also battled with bouts of depression and my head feeling messed up. I sometimes describe Ghost of the Navigator as my depression buster novel, and it’s definitely my favourite out of my four books so far, yet I felt more depressed after writing it. Why? It’s complicated, but this week’s one of the ones where I feel like I know part of the reason why: because I’m chasing worlds I feel like I’ve lost. Just like half the population of that novel.
I feel like about twelve years ago was the time I most liked who I was and what I was doing. Sometimes, tapping back into these mentalities because a motivational blog post brings them to me can be invaluable. Sometimes, I feel like I win that chase.
I particularly liked this post of AV’s about ‘What do you desire?’ After a lot of my usual borderline obsessive thinking, I realised that around the time I graduated from university, I was at my happiest because I had good answers to that question, and I was going out into the world to get that life I wanted. I won’t get bogged down in that story right now, but it didn’t work out at all the way I thought. If you want a good example of how I eventually channelled that story-gone-wrong into fiction, read Fighter’s Mark. Oscar Murdoch isn’t me at all (confession: I sometimes wish I was more like him), but the idea is the same: ‘This is what I think I desire but real life is going to show me who I really am and what I actually desire a whole lot more, I just don’t quite know it yet. Or maybe I did all along, but I just didn’t quite listen to myself enough…’
I think the reason I like that desire post is because of what it doesn’t include: the idea that desires can change. Finding that thing that you’re going to keep doing until ‘you can become a master’ takes time, and effort, and to a certain extent, going down a road that’s almost right but perhaps not quite.
Back to Mr Vicino himself, one of his latest posts is about admitting that he’s lived a good deal of his life based on fleeting passions. I’m much the same. I can think of many things I’ve tried, and genuinely loved while they lasted, but in the end, the roads changed. But for all of them, there are some that stuck. Writing is one of them. I’ve wanted to write books and stories since I was a kid. I’m one of those who kept a childhood dream alive. But there are others.
It only occurred to me this evening that I had my first guitar lesson with a friend of mine in September 1997. With two days left in September as I write this, it’s safe to say that I’ve now been a guitarist for twenty years. Two whole decades, I actually stuck with something! I still have the first ever copy of ‘Guitarist’ magazine I ever bought, dated September 1997 – two months after I started. I bought it because it had a feature length article on Kurt Cobain.
Okay, so during those twenty years I haven’t always stuck to a regimented practice schedule. Sometimes I’ve gone a couple of months or even a little longer barely picking a guitar up. But I’ve also been that guy who gets up on open mic night for a quick 15 minute blues jam with some well known songs and had teenagers who’ve just started learning come up to me at the bar, and just when I think they’re going to ask if I’ll buy them a beer because they can’t get served they go ‘Dude, how the fuck did you just do that?’ instead. I can do some stuff that’s impressive. In a recent conversation with my sister (who also seems to think I’m a pretty good player) I said ‘Yeah but I just don’t have the discipline to really get as good as I want to be; I’m never going to play like John Petrucci or anything.’ And she said ‘Yeah but there’s me who can’t do anything, then up here there’s him, and somewhere between us there’s you.’
Bottom line: I’ve stuck with the same hobby for twenty years regardless of how good I consider myself to be, and knowing I won’t go pro but still getting what I want from it. Playing guitar and learning complex solos does have an unbeatable way of clearing my head of anything else going on in the world. Including my writing, when I’m desperate but unable to stop obsessing over it.
Visual time out: here’s my favourite guitar out of the ones I own, an Ibanez JS100, in its natural habitat, next to my H&K Switchblade amp. For those reading who know their gear, this combo creates a killer sound and was worth the expense I didn’t spare:
How do I wrap this one up? What idea was I really wandering through here? Oh yeah, motivational posts. I can’t think of one occasions where I picked up a guitar because of one. Even during the times when I stuck to a self-imposed practice schedule, it wasn’t because someone had sold me the benefits of habit and routine. It was because I just wanted to do it. Sometimes a reminder that I can turn wanting into doing is useful, but ultimately nobody can create that moment where I do something except me. I’ve done it for two decades with guitars, and even longer for writing.
And running, now that I think about it. I first took that up when I was twelve. Did it really take me twenty-two years to get my first half marathon medal? Yeah, but I blame that on all the hours I spent playing guitars or writing books instead.