Monday, May 14, 2018

Impostor Syndrome and Exhaustion

Impostor Syndrome has been hitting me hard lately. Motivation and inspiration have both been in short supply, and getting words in my document has been a frustrating ordeal. I haven't finished a story in months, I've hardly been able to provide my Patreon patrons with anything interesting or worth the monthly dollar, and overall I'm feeling pretty annoyed at myself and my writing.

I am acquainted with a lot of authors who seem to have the same problems with perpetually low spoons that I do, and yet...they manage. They get work done. They have readers. They have new stories and new projects they seem to work on way more often than I get around to mine.

The best advice to myself I've had lately is that, happens. Logically I know that it doesn't make me less of a writer, or worse of one. But boy does it sting in those moments I think about just how little I've accomplished so far this year, in comparison to the goals I set in December and January.

This isn't a post with advice, or inspiration, or the story of How I Overcame Impostor Syndrome and Creative Burnout. I'm not really sure what it is, other than some attempt to get my thoughts out, and show other people in my same situation that they're not alone, even if it feels like it.

The feeling that I'm Not Good Enough and I'm Wasting My Time is so goddamn hard to deal with some days. There are times I legitimately want to give it up and just accept that I'm never going to be the writer I want to be. But I never do, because I'd hate myself far more if I actually did give up than if I tried my hardest and still never achieved my goals.

I'm young. I'm trying. And even if all I can do is crap out a mediocre sentence, least it's something. I'll get there eventually, and even if I don't, at least nobody can say I never gave it my best shot.

Today I wrote a little over 500 new words, some on an original story and some on a fanfic. That's 500 words I can go back to and polish when I'm feeling a little better. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, but at least they're written. That's 500 more words than I had this morning.

I guess the point of this post is to say that every word is a victory, even if it's a word you're not entirely confident doesn't suck. Bang out some words where you can, and let yourself remember that you're allowed to suck. You'll get better.

Are you listening, self? You're allowed to suck. You'll get better.

Now forgive yourself for all the days you didn't write, and celebrate each day you do. A wordless day isn't a failure, but each little word counts as a victory.

I've had 500 victories today. Maybe I'll have some more tomorrow. But even if I don't, that doesn't take away the 500 from today.

Until next time,

Monday, May 7, 2018

Some Reminders

Other writers are not your competition. Everyone needs a multitude of stories.

If you write to pay the bills, you are not a "sellout." We all have to eat.

You are allowed to write your experience, even if your experience isn't the norm.

You are allowed to write what makes you happy, even if others think it's "silly."

Writing fanfiction is valid and just as entertaining and important as original fiction.

You don't have to write with the intent to share. Your work is allowed to just be for you.

You don't have to make money to be a "real" author.

You never have to do anything you aren't comfortable doing--whether it's a writing style, using a social media platform, writing a certain trend or genre, or anything else.

You are allowed to struggle.

You are allowed to have off days.

You are allowed to go long stretches without writing a single word.

You do not have to write every single day to be a "real" writer.

You do not have to write about "serious" topics. We need lighthearted fun stories, too.

You don't have to write about your own marginalization if that's not what you want to do.

There are no hard and fast rules of writing. Use the advice that works for you and throw out the rest.

You don't have to aspire to traditional ideas of success.

You don't have to publish traditionally, or at all.

Your writing is yours, and your journey is yours. Others may have valuable advice, but you never have to take advice that makes you uncomfortable or just doesn't work for you.

You are allowed to write crap. That's how you improve.

Take care of yourself. Be gentle with yourself. It's hard, but I believe in you.

Until next time,

Monday, April 23, 2018

Fanfic & Sims: The Importance of Playing Around

It's a common experience for a lot of writers, myself included, to go through frustrating periods of low motivation, low creativity, and general apathy toward writing. It happens. It's not a bad thing, and it doesn't make anyone a poor writer, but it can feel like a total soul-suck.

I could feel myself starting to go through one of those periods awhile back, when all I wanted to do was play video games and not think about anything--much less my own stories. So I did, and fell further into a pit of frustration because now I felt guilty for not writing when I clearly had the time.

But working on my original content still felt like pulling teeth.

I think it was my boyfriend who first suggested I start writing fanfic. I've been playing Skyrim since it came out, and in that time I've developed a lot of headcanons, and after awhile those headcanons began to develop into a coherent narrative surrounding mine, my wife's, and my boyfriend's OCs.

So in the downtime at work one day, I started scribbling down the beginnings of what is now Triumvirate--which I'm still enjoying and updating over a year later. I've also written two other Skyrim fanfics, Prophecy's End and Speak to Me Now and the World Will Crumble. I'm immensely proud of them, and they keep me feeling excited about writing even when it's hard to figure out what to do in my own original universes.

Fanfic writers have always told me that fanfic keeps them feeling creative even when OC is hard, but I never really thought it would work for me. I was definitely wrong. I don't feel like I'm neglecting my writing with fanfic, I still feel like I'm producing something worthwhile--because I absolutely am. Sometimes it's hard to feel passionate about my original worlds, but I am never--ever--not going to be passionate about Tamriel.

Another thing in a similar vein that's helped me keep creative even through slumps is the Sims fandom on tumblr, known as Simblr. Since The Sims is essentially a massive dollhouse for people to plop original characters, it's become common practice for Simmers to post screenshots of their games along with captions telling stories. Sometimes they're just simple one-off scenes, sometimes the stories go on for months or longer.

The stories I've been telling on my Simblr, while simple, have been a lot of fun, and keep Sims from becoming a mindless time-eater that leaves me feeling guilty over not doing anything creative. But at the same time, it's still endless fun and doesn't feel like a chore, the way writing can sometimes feel.

At the end of the day, for me, the fanfiction and Sims stories are worthwhile on their own, but they also leave me feeling inspired and pumped up to work on original content. So when it comes time to sit down and bang out my daily goal of 500 words, it's not as much of a struggle.

"Just writing anyway" has never helped me break through creative slumps. "If you don't write, you'll never publish anything" just makes me anxious. But the "frivolous," "silly" projects? They keep me going. It doesn't matter if it's not wholly original, it doesn't matter if I can't sell it, it doesn't matter if it's not "groundbreaking." It's fun free writing, born out of something I genuinely care about.

And if the comments I keep getting on both are anything to go by, having fun has made my writing stronger.

Until next time,

Monday, April 2, 2018

Compassion Fatigue

Plenty of creatives have been talking for months about the palpable anxiety permeating creative circles since the last presidential election. There's a constant stream of new, worse news, and those involved in activism have hardly had a break. Compassion fatigue has long since set in hardcore, and even those who know they need a break are stuck feeling like they can't take one.

It sucks. It really, really sucks.

I know plenty of writers who say they haven't had a solid period of creativity in months because they're just so goddamn exhausted from daily life on top of social justice stress. I'm honestly right there with them. I am a queer, transgender, disabled person, and it's hard to feel free to be creative and playful when you've got to have an eye over your shoulder so damn often.

I'm not here to present an easy answer with a soundbite title. I can't. If I could figure that out, I'd be much better off and way less stressed. But what I am here to do is say this:

You aren't alone. You aren't. There are so many people dealing with the same thing, who understand how it feels.

The way I've been coping is to keep reminding myself that no one person is responsible for the fight. It's a collective effort, and I am allowed to take a step back to take care of myself when I need to. Others will still be there, doing what I can't handle just now.

It may mean taking a week away from Twitter and replacing Twitter Time with reading a fun book. It may mean limiting the time I spend in activism circles. It may mean standing up and saying, "this is important, but I can't right now," and enforcing that boundary even when I feel guilty about it.

But it's a needed thing. We're all facing burnout, which is exactly what the enemies out there want. They want us to run ourselves into the ground and stop fighting.

Taking a break when you need it is not giving up. Taking a break is taking care of yourself, so you can renew yourself and come back at it later with renewed spirit. But more than that, you don't exist to fight these battles. They're important and necessary, but you are not solely responsible for fighting the world's ills. You are allowed to have a life outside of that, and should.

Taking a step back is not letting the rest of us down. Taking a step back is how you have a well-rounded life that keeps your soul from dying the slow death of compassion fatigue.

So, please. Take a step back when you need it. Breathe. The fight's still going to be there when you come back, and you can't fight at all if you've run yourself into the ground.

Until next time,

Monday, March 5, 2018

What You Can Do Is Enough

I was going to write a post about villains today. Then I realized I already wrote that post and had forgotten about it, and got frustrated because, well'p, there went my idea for the weekly post. And then I got even more frustrated when I realized that I would, yet again, be going without a Monday blog post like I always promise I'm going to do and yet never actually get to.

And then I just kind of fell into a loop of being annoyed at myself for never being able to do all the things I want to do.

Which, as a disabled person, is a loop I'm all too familiar with. And it sucks.

So here we are, 10:58 PM on a Monday night, and I'm here to tell you some things that none of us get told nearly often enough:

The things you can do are enough. You don't have to do more than you are capable of. You don't have to be productive. You don't have to be constantly at work. "Do your best" does not mean "force yourself beyond your own capabilities."

It's okay to get frustrated with yourself. It's okay to get upset at the world we live in for pushing the idea that if you're not being productive, you're doing something wrong. Because it's all bullshit, y'all--we live in a world that tries to enforce arbitrary ideas on what's "normal" and "acceptable" and "admirable."

You don't have to run yourself into the ground because society tells you it's the Done Thing.

It's okay to half-ass things. It's okay to leave them un-done. It's okay to know and respect your own limits and boundaries and needs.

What you can do is good enough.

I'm going to go play Sims now. Take it easy.

'Til next time,

Monday, January 8, 2018

Let's Talk About #OwnVoices

I'm a little late to the party, but I've been sitting on some thoughts on the #OwnVoices hashtag and related topics for quite a while now.

For those who don't know, the #OwnVoices hashtag was created on Twitter by author Corinne Duyvis. It was created, in Duyvis' own words, "to recommend kidlit about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group." [Source]

I adore the concept behind #OwnVoices. I like how easy it has become for me to search for books by and about people who share my marginalizations. It's an extremely useful tool, and I'm glad to see it being used, and used widely. It has done a lot of good, and I'm grateful for it.

But I wanted to talk about a few things I've seen become increasingly common.

With the popularity of #OwnVoices, books by marginalized creators seem to be, generally, a lot more visible. It isn't solely because of #OwnVoices, of course, but the hashtag has definitely contributed quite a bit. And with stories by marginalized creators becoming more visible...well, to be blunt, the assholes have come right out of the woodwork.

I don't refer only to blatant bigots who hurl slurs and whine about "SJW conspiracies" on Twitter. I refer specifically to those who have started to put unfair demands on #OwnVoices writers. Demands such as:

"If you don't write exactly my personal experience with this marginalization, then it's bad representation."

"You have to bare your soul and write your life story for it to really count."

"If you're a marginalized creator who doesn't write anything I consider #OwnVoices, you're betraying your own community."

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum. People have started to act as if they are entitled to #OwnVoices content, and if it fails to meet their impossibly high standards, they get vicious.

It feels like there has been increased demand on marginalized creators to tell stories they may not want to tell, and share parts of themselves they would rather keep private. And it feels like, when these creators do share that part of themselves, it is held to an extremely high standard. A standard that is much, much, much higher than the standards placed on creators who are not marginalized.

Marginalized creators (and from what I have seen, this is particularly true for people of color) are constantly told that their voices aren't "authentic enough," whatever that means. Additionally, any problematic elements their content might contain are ripped apart on a level not seen when the creator is not marginalized.

Offensive portrayals of a marginalized group often get praised. Genuine portrayals written by members of the same marginalized group are often ignored, torn down, and waved aside.

A personal example that comes to mind? Allistic creators writing about autistic people get praised and told how compassionate they are. Autistic creators? We get told we shouldn't bother, because we're "not creative enough" and that we're "too biased" to tell our own stories. People want to use our stories as inspiration porn, but they don't want to support us in telling those stories ourselves.

And don't even get me started on how vocal people are about it being "bad representation" when a bisexual character winds up in a "het" relationship. That particular bit of bullshit has been circulating for years.

None of this, of course, is at all the fault of #OwnVoices, and certainly not its creator. But from where I stand, it feels like we as a writing and publishing community are in a place where we really, really need to take a step back and think: are we putting unfair demands on marginalized creators? Are we being overly harsh when they make mistakes? Are we asking for more #OwnVoices content because we truly believe in it, or are we just looking to make a buck?

As a marginalized creator, it can be an extremely unpleasant feeling to wonder if your story is only getting attention because it can be marketed with a popular hashtag. It can feel extremely othering to wonder if the people reading your work actually enjoy it and truly want to support you, or if they're trying to tick some box on their "I'm Not A Bigot" checklist. And it can be terrifying to know that there's a high chance you are going to be roasted for something for which someone who isn't marginalized would be given every excuse in the world.

At the end of the day, I want to write and share good stories. I don't want to feel like I'm selling my own marginalizations as some sort of voyeuristic inspiration porn. And I don't want to feel like I have no room to make mistakes, because I have the weight of my entire community somehow on my shoulders.

Keep promoting content from marginalized creators. Keep supporting marginalized creators. But be careful that you aren't hurting those marginalized creators with unfair demands and expectations.

Marginalized people are people. Treat us as such.

Until next time,

Monday, December 11, 2017

On Relatable Villains

[CW: This post discusses the way villains are often coded as marginalized identities. There are mentions specifically of queermisia/queerphobia, ableism, antisemitism, and racism.]

Like many people, I adore fictional villains. Most of my favorite characters of all time are villains, and I in fact have three tattoos inspired by fictional villains. Villains and antagonists are often some of the strongest parts of a story.

Name a fandom I'm part of, and there's a very strong chance the character I find most meaningful and relatable is a villain.

But to be honest? I kind of hate that.

Many, many people have written at length about coding: the way in which characters are implied to be of a specific background or marginalization without anyone ever coming out and saying it. This happens very often with villains, especially in fantasy. For example, the trope of villains with big hook noses is part of an extremely antisemitic stereotype that Jewish people = evil. My personal experience with coding, and the reason I relate to so many villains, is that many are coded as, one, queer in some fashion and, two, as neurodivergent/mentally ill.

These coded villains are not typically written by people who share their coded marginalizations, which adds a definite layer of sometimes subtle bigotry. This gets internalized by people who consume the media, and then applied, often subconsciously, to real people.

Here are a few examples that have personally affected me:

Untrustworthy characters being indicated by fidgeting and a lack of eye contact. As an autistic person, I am uncomfortable with eye contact and find it quite difficult if not impossible to maintain. Because eye contact is held up as such an important part of being trustworthy and honest, autistic people, especially children, are often abused by caregivers until they learn to make that eye contact. Fidgeting and stimming are also "trained" out of autistic people in abusive therapies like ABA.

Evil characters do not experience love, are repulsed by it, and never seek romantic partners. As an aromantic person, I frequently deal with dehumanization and vilification because I do not experience romantic attraction. Aromantic people are frequently seen as frigid, cruel, and even abusive, just because we do not experience that attraction the way alloromantic (non-aromantic) people do.

Characters who have low or no empathy are held up as the epitome of cruel and dangerous. A lack of empathy is heralded as a sure sign of abusive, controlling, and malicious tyrants. But there are multiple disorders, two of which I personally have, that often come with low or otherwise "abnormal" empathy. This does not make us bad people, and seeing villains (both real and fictional) who are portrayed as evil because they're not empathetic is extremely demoralizing and harmful.

What's the point of me saying this? The point is that if you want to write a good antagonist, you should be careful that you're not just using harmful coding as a shorthand that will hurt real people. Take great care (and hire sensitivity readers) so that you don't make bigoted assertions that a trait of a marginalized group is a sign of evil.

I'm tired of relating to villains. I'm tired of seeing my autism, my personality disorder, my queerness, my real-world experience reflected in the people I'm told I should hate and root against. If you are a content creator, please do your part to be mindful of the way coding and tropes can be used to harm.

Representation matters, but the thing is that it has to be positive representation. Give me a glimpse at myself in villain after villain after villain, and you have not told me that I matter. You have told me that I am repulsive and wrong.

Be mindful, be aware, and be better than creators of the past. Don't tell marginalized people that we're evil, because gods all know we get enough of that already.

Until next time,