History in Fiction

I’ve been spending a lot of time playing a game I hadn’t played in a decade: The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. I’ve spent too much time playing it, because that’s always been an easy habit for me to fall back into. But I tell myself it’s not a total loss…

I’ve always loved fantasy worlds, where “fantasy” usually means “appears to take place in what I understand to be something like Medieval Europe, except in a parallel universe with dragons and magic and stuff”. I can delve in and theorize about why that was always my thing, moreso than, say, true crime (which is more of a recent fascination), but right now I just want to focus on the features of those stories. And specifically I’m going to talk about what makes the made-up world of The Elder Scrolls series so delicious to me.

The first one of those games I played was Daggerfall, which came out in 1996. It was very ambitious, but the technology couldn’t really keep up: there was this huge world to explore, but a lot of it felt the same because it was generated procedurally, and a lot of it didn’t work properly. I remember lamenting that I loved the concept of the game, and I wished they made a version where the world was smaller but much more detailed (and less buggy).

Then the next game in the series, Morrowind, came out, and I started to worry that Bethesda Software had microphones hidden in my house.

What I loved so much about both Morrowind and its follow-up, Oblivion, is how they both let you wander around a fantasy world doing all sorts of things. They have a storyline, but you can ignore it and find other stories going on in the same world, or just invent your own. I refer to that kind of game as a “fantasy sandbox”, and I think it must be my favourite style: I’ve poured hundreds of hours into these two games over the years.

You could say one of my reasons for writing books is that I finally want to play in my own fantasy sandbox.

The fictional world behind these games—and there are close to a dozen titles in the series at this point, some major, some minor—is incredibly, wonderfully full of detail and history. There’s a creation myth for the game world, and the world is divided into provinces, and each one has a different indigenous race—some human, some not—with their own takes on the myth. There’s this massive history spread over four “eras” that’s accumulated over time from the writing of these games.

As someone who wants to make an immersive fantasy world of my own, it’s breathtaking to see such scope… and incredibly exciting.

So I was thinking the other day (in the shower, where all real thinking takes place) about what gives this fictional history its legs. What makes it compelling, and what, if you’re going to create your own fictional world, do you need to do or avoid doing, in order to make your history compelling?

What you need

If you want to create a history that has some resonance with people living in our world, which has its own history that we tend to be exposed to and understand in specific ways, well, real history is where you start. Our world has this set of information about the past that is generally recorded, preserved, and disseminated. For our purposes, we’re going to split it into two different buckets:

History, and Myth.

This is a deliberate simplification, because we could spend an entire Arts degree debating the distinctions. For right now, I’m going to say “history” tends to have a physical record, a source that’s widely agreed-upon, and “myth” tends to… not have either of those.

Like I said: deliberate simplification. Stick with me here.

Your world’s history, like our world’s history, will probably include “historical” information that is more recent, better agreed-upon, with some physical record (like people who saw it who are still alive, or detailed writings, or actual physical properties like a battlefield or ruin), sitting on top of a background of older, less agreed-upon, less verifiable and probably more fantastic myth.

Let’s start with creation myths. Our world has many, but, given the limitations of reality as we currently understand it, we can neither confirm nor wholly deny any of them. In fantasy worlds, however, the creation myths can play much more direct and literal roles in the ongoing stories in the world.1

One way to build your world’s history is to start at its literal beginning. But having to invent a creation myth every time you want to write about a dragon is a little tedious. So for my purposes, I have some vague, cool ideas about my world’s creation myths… and as I think about the stories I want to tell, I’ll start filling in the gaps.

Once you have an idea for how the world was created, you start filling in how the other stuff got there, too, and the Bible shows how simply you can do that: on the first day God created this, and on the second day, that, and on the last day, he created Man… and then it got complicated.

If you have a few different races of intelligent beings, as many fantasy worlds do, how did they each get created? Were they split off from each other or from some older, extinct race? Does the oldest race have the most advanced civilization? If not, why not? Did they have a very advanced civilization but it was destroyed? Or are there reasons they didn’t develop as quickly as “younger” races, or in the same directions?

Just answering questions like those gives you heaps of story material, and you can drill down and down and down… maybe the ancient precursors of humankind in your world had incredible technologies powered by magic, but they tried to use their technology to ascend to godhood, and the actual gods struck them down, or fomented a terrible civil war that ripped their civilization apart… and now you can make up the details of that war, the names of the two major states or cities involved, who their rulers were, what were a couple of the key battles of that war…

And you don’t ever need to write a whole book about the above, though you can! But it provides you with this rich topsoil in which to grow the stories you’re going to tell in your fantasy world. When you need a reason for why things are the way they are in your story, you can look back at that history: the dangerous cave full of weird magical traps and guardians that the characters have to quest through to find the Sword of Awesome—that cave could be a remnant of the war above.

Again, you never need to mention the history, but its presence suffuses the stories you tell with my favourite word: verisimilitude. It helps you come up with the details that make your world feel real.

The other direction

You don’t have to start from the beginning, either. You can move in the other direction: given the story you want to tell, what is the recent history of the world behind it? For example, the stories I’m working on focus on an empire that is in the midst of expansion. One of the first things I wondered after coming up with this idea was, “Okay, fantasy empire, great…. But how do empires come to exist? Why do you get an empire and not just kingdoms or feudal states?” So I turned again to the history of our world.

I found a great video on what makes an empire viable. It uses examples both from our world and from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Yes, really. If you click that link and go watch it instead of reading the rest of this, I won’t be offended.2

And at a friend’s recommendation, I started reading The Origins of Political Order, which looks at why, exactly, different cultures in different parts of the world achieved “statehood” at different times. We can apply all of those principles to our fantasy world… but, as always, only as much as we need to.

A simple example is, if you have an empire, then it got to be an empire (as opposed to a smaller state) by absorbing some existing states. Now there’s got to be a story there; how did that happen? Often, there was warfare, and even if you don’t need to figure out all the details of that conflict you can come up with, say, a single battle—The Battle at Minotaur Pass—and make a main or side character be a veteran of that battle. How did they end up there? How did they comport themselves? Did they fight nobly? Did they run away? Did they kill people? Did they witness the destruction of people and places they loved? And how did those events shape who they are in the story you’re telling now? This adds so much depth and potential to even a “template” character like the gruff sergeant who has to teach the hero how to swing a longsword.

I’ve said plenty about asking questions to work out details of your world’s history. In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about the dangers of doing exactly that.

  1. In The Lord of the Rings mythology, and I realize the risk I’m taking by saying this off the cuff and probably getting some details slightly wrong, the god or entity that was responsible for creation first created other entities, called the Valar, and then either it or the Valar created a sort of second tier of entities called the Maiar. Gandalf is actually one of these Maiar—so this character that plays a large role in the events happening in the “present” of the story was actually a part of the world’s creation myth. That’s pretty cool.
  2. To be totally honest, I will be a little offended, but I’ll try not to let it show.

No Switch to Flip

I posted to this blog for a few weeks and then, like every other time I’ve ever tried blogging, I stopped. I stopped pretty much everything, in fact: writing, working out, etc. Right now, today, I’m working my way back. I don’t know about you, but I always want there to be a switch. When I was a kid I remember distinctly writing in a notebook that I’d had this revelation. Maybe I was thirteen. The revelation was that there isn’t this switch that gets flipped and now you’re an adult, possessed of all the knowledge and capabilities adolescent-you lacks.

You do change, but it’s slow, and it’s not always in the ways you think.

I started blogging in 2011… and 2013… and 2017. But if you look back at this site, the earliest post is from 2018. What used to happen is, I’d make a few posts, excited to be doing this… and then I’d stop. And then, after six months or a year of inactivity, those couple of lonely islands in a sea of unproductive time would fill me with shame, and I’d just delete the thing. Until, a few years later, I’d start all over again.

I was and am jealous of those folks who have a blog for a decade or more; they can look back on this mountain of work they’ve slowly accumulated. The same is true for the fiction side, as I’ve said before: I love the idea of standing on top of a mountain of stuff you made. Not just one or two things breaking through the filmy surface of distraction and laziness once or twice in your life, but regular, consistent production. It doesn’t have to be genius work, most if not all of it won’t be, it just has to be yours. In the world. Outside of your head. Made. Done.

Sometimes, always, there’s no magic switch: the tricky and terrifying thing is that you just have to keep choosing to show up. It’s true in relationships and exercise and writing, anything that slowly builds a mountain one rock at a time. I always wanted there to be a switch that flipped and then I wouldn’t have to worry anymore about whether or not I was going to do the work.

But I’m losing faith such a switch exists—or gaining clarity that it doesn’t.

What I hope instead is that I reach the place where there’s a habit, and, the same way I don’t have to wonder if I’m going to brush my teeth before I go to bed tonight, I won’t have to wonder “will I write today?” But maybe that never happens. What I’ve realized I can do, though, must do, if only to never again feel like I gave up on this, is not mind the times I fall off: just keep showing back up.

Early

So to get back on the horse, I’m doing a three-week challenge: wake up at six in the morning and write at least one thousand words. First thing, before you do anything else. I’m on day seventeen as I edit and post this, and it’s been going pretty smoothly. I’ll say this, though: every time I get up at six I wish I was getting up at seven instead. I’m going to do an experiment when this phase is over: I’m going to try waking up at seven and writing, for, say, a week, and see if I actually feel different upon waking, or if I always feel like “it’s too early”.

I suspect it’ll be the latter: wanting to hit snooze just one more time is merely a passing feeling.

There’s a lot of talk about the importance of waking up early, and, fair enough, but I don’t think it’s magic; look, the point is to do the writing, the thing I’ll otherwise spend all day thinking about but not doing, the thing I’ll feel like shit because I didn’t do. I’ve got to do that first before the rewarding activities of eating breakfast and drinking coffee and catching up on the internet and going for a walk and playing video games, because all of those activities can and do stretch out to fill the whole day.

I still have a nagging voice telling me I’m not writing enough, but at least it’s a start. I did something, and I did it every day. If I write a thousand words a day I can work on pushing it to two thousand. If I go back to writing zero, well, I’m back where I came from.

When you do a challenge like this you have to plan. One thing I did right away was create a little three-week calendar on graph paper, and I wrote in the dates and highlighted the weekend days in red. The red is a warning that weekends are often a break in routine, they require more deliberation to wake up early and to therefore go to bed at the right time.

The red highlights were a reminder to consider this beforehand: instead of realizing it’s Friday night and I’m staying out ’til midnight but, oops, I wanted to wake up at six tomorrow, I’d have to be planning for Friday night that whole day.

Likewise, for going to bed earlier. Once or twice, I stayed up past midnight and then woke up at six. And I did get up at six, because, dammit, I was going to do this challenge. And I could always go back to bed for a couple more hours afterwards. It still feels terrible, though, so most days I started going to bed earlier. Doing this requires planning that rolls backwards through the rest of the day: I wanted to be in bed with nothing left to do but read a bit until ten and then turn out the light. That meant whatever else I wanted to do during the evening had to stop at nine at the latest. And then that becomes easier because you were up at six and you’re tired by nine anyway, and you’ve already had fifteen hours in your day, how much more do you need? When you get up after nine in the morning it’s easy to stay up til midnight; when you get up at six, it gets a lot less easy.

I talked about switches, wishing I could find and flip the switch to shunt myself from the inconsistent writer track to the writes all the time track. But maybe a more apt metaphor for how we really change is, we need to set up roadblocks for ourselves, forcing us to navigate onto the right roads. We’re not Nietzschean super-beings of unlimited and awesome willpower, it turns out: we’re creatures of habit, but that’s fine. The difference between us and, say, a lab rat, is we can become aware of the routines running our lives and change them, maybe not through force of will, but through the deliberate construction of an environment, both internal and external, which slowly molds us into the people we want to be.

That sure sounds a lot less satisfying than just flipping a switch, but my experience is that the switch is a fantasy. The other… well, I’m hoping it isn’t.

It Piles Up

I had this desk in my room when I was a kid, and it became a junk heap. I would never, ever clean it up, just precariously balance more stuff on top. At the time, I didn’t see what the point of all the work required to go through it would be; any other thing I could possibly do seemed more rewarding, totally aside from the fact that the job seemed enormous and impossible.

I’ve got a desk right now, as a nominal adult. It’s not nearly the pile my childhood desk was, but… there’s a dozen things on there that don’t need to be there.

Even worse… my computer becomes that pile. Which is ridiculous, right? Because the windows and apps and tabs don’t take up any actual room, but what happens is when I think about using my computer, it’s this big pile of uncertainty. Instead of knowing exactly what I want to do there are twenty things I could do, so… it’s easier to just not think about it. So I never do any of them, so I have Safari tabs that stay open for six months.

Even my writing app gets like this. I’m using Ulysses as my One True App and putting everything in there, so I have a heap of sheets in my Inbox group… what friction does that impose on me every time I sit down to write?

You can’t spend your time just cleaning this stuff up, because now you’re a janitor instead of a creator. But it is worth some amount of time to periodically say, look, all else aside, the very most important thing I can do with the next half an hour is make this pile smaller.

In fact, I’ve been dawdling on my writing today; I’m going to schedule this post and go do some of that cleanup right now.

Scattered

It never ceases to amaze me: like clockwork, when I think I’m battening the hatches down on one project—I’ve outlined stuff, I have lots of ideas, I’m ready to finally sit down and write the goddamned thing…

I was so committed, I had in my mind this whole picture about how it was going to go, how I was finally going to get something substantial finished…

Every time, no sooner do I start the actual act of writing a corpus of words, suddenly some other project is the one I should be doing.

It. Never. Fails. My attention scatters. I don’t know really quite how to fight my way through this. I’ve been doing alright with my current idea. I had a fantasy novel in mind, and had gone pretty far with planning and characters and scenes… but I sat down and wrote one scene and hated it. Then I had this elaborate idea for, I guess it’s like urban paranormal fantasy, and it’s consumed me entirely. And I’ve actually banged out about 7-8000 words. But even now, these thoughts flicker into being: it doesn’t make sense, and no one’s gonna like it, and why don’t I just write this science fiction idea I have instead?

Like I said. It never fails.

Far as I can tell, it’s the difference between the ideation, which is easy, and the writing, which is not. The writing is a struggle against what Chris Fox has called the Creative Gap, the difference between the awesome ideas you have in your head and the tepid stream of words you drizzle out onto the page. But I do know those words are necessary, you have to produce a lot of shit before you can shape it into manure for your garden, or… some better metaphor.

Speaking of gardens and Chris Fox, he wrote a book called Plot Gardening, in which he conjures up this image of planter boxes for each of your projects, and you just toss some soil into each as you get ideas, and see what starts growing… there’s more to it but it’s meant to be a balance between the necessary structure of plotting, and so-called pantsing, where you just write like the wind and see what happens.

I like the idea, but haven’t figured out how to reconcile it with the problem of being scattered: I do like the optionality of being able to toss some soil into boxes, but nonetheless at some point I have to pick one and finish it. Or wrestle it to the ground until I’m sure it’s the wrong project.

In the Tyranny of Tools post, I was talking about Rabbit Holes and Blind Alleys in terms of playing with tools instead of doing your work, but the same seems to apply to the work itself. While the alleys and holes of tools are to be avoided, falling into them during projects seems inevitable: you have to play with a lot of different things and maybe even finish them before you’ll ever know if they work or not.

This is not a totally thrilling prospect. Who wants to spend the time only to find out the thing sucks?

For now, I’m quite convinced the only thing really fixed in stone is you need to sit down every day and put some words to the page… but here’s the thing: I’ve been doing my writing sprints every day for the past week, but I’ve only been working on this blog… not the novel. The habit I’m tracking this month has been doing at least a five-minute sprint every day, no matter what comes out, because you need to start somewhere.

Next month I will track two habits: a sprint in general, and a sprint specifically on the novel.

We’ll see how it goes. Training myself to write every day is going well so far, we’ll see if I’m more successful than I was in late 2017… and early 2017… and, well, etc.

Getting Unreasonable

I want to publish 100 novels and 1000 short stories in the next thirty years.

What?!

Well, words are easy and actions are something else altogether. But there’s this idea in the entrepreneurship circles in which I circle, Chris Fox talks about this: 10x Thinking; the idea being that, if you have a goal, things change in your mindset in a big way if you imagine ten times your goal.

So, you want to write a book? Okay. Then you’ll do certain things in order to achieve that goal. But what if you decide you want to write ten books? And in less than ten times the time? You’ve got to do different things to reach that goal, and they will by necessity be more powerful things. You have to learn to plan, to write faster, to not spend all your time noodling around with the thousand words you wrote over the past six weeks. You have to open the valve on your own artistic production which is, it appears to me, the only way to ever get better at this craft.

A big part of the shift I’m trying to make is committing to publishing things, not just writing them, because “writing” is an activity that can go on forever, but publishing, like sex, has a definite endpoint (and makes a mess of your sheets).

Amirite?

This may all seem like semantics, but when wrestling with our own brains semantics are really all we’ve got. The difference between saying you’re gonna write and saying you’re gonna publish is the difference between masturbation and sex, and, with that simile out of my system, the difference between “I’m gonna write a book” and “I’m gonna write ten books”: it forces you into a different mindset, and mindsets are the antecedent of action, and action, of course, is the only thing that actually produces books.

Okay. So, if I say I want to publish an output more like Isaac Asimov’s than Thomas Harris’s1, now I can think my way backwards from that: what actions will I need to take in the next decade to get me there? Okay, what about in the next five years? Okay, next two years. Okay, next year, okay, etc., what do I have to do tomorrow?

And from that big vague goal up top, my immediate next action becomes vibrantly clear: you need to write today, you sumbitch!

Well, ~500 words down, 10,000,000 more to go.

  1. Due respect to Mr. Harris, I love his books. But he became conspicuous to me via Stephen King’s On Writing, wherein King points out that Harris writes these awesome novels, but only one every seven years, and isn’t that kind of a shame?

Blood, Sweat, and Then What?

There used to be a billboard in my old neighbourhood, I don’t even remember what it was for, but the slogan on it, in big blocky black type on bright yellow, always grabbed me. It said

BLOOD, SWEAT… AND TEN YEARS

Let’s talk goals. There’s the nebulous desire to “be a writer”, yeah, but imagine what that looks like: not just a big pile of words on your hard drive, but a big pile of words out somewhere where everyone can see, whether it’s on a blog or Barnes and Noble. What could you do with blood, sweat, and ten years?

Yeah. Me too.

But the problem is ten years is too far away, it’s a fantasy, and, honestly, even this Christmas is just a fantasy, too. Sure, I’ll have written a novel by then, sure. I’ll probably start tomorrow.

Pretty sure I said that in October 2017. And, look, let’s be honest with each other: I’m pretty sure I said it in October 2007, too. But here we are. Well, here I am. How about you?

I spent the last few years working with people who have among their hobbies the desire to run really far; did you know there’s a thing called an ultramarathon? The funny thing about it is, it’s considered any distance run of 50 kilometres or more, which means if you run 50 or 150, it’s an ultramarathon both ways. Do you think the person who runs 150 feels kind of ripped off? Maybe not.

Imagine how it feels to wake up the next morning, hopefully not in hospital, and realize, “I ran a hundred fifty kilometres, for fucksake!” Imagine! It takes deliberation to even drive that far. Here’s the thing, though: your car is probably up for grinding out a quick 150 any old time, if there’s some gas in the tank and it’s not a total wreck. But a human being can’t just get up from the desk you and I are sitting at right now and run 150 klicks… or fifteen…

Even five will be a struggle, until you practice.

And that’s the crazy thing: I can maybe run five K, maybe, if wolves are after me and my loved ones. But I can’t run 10 K without stopping, let alone a marathon, and yet… there’s no physical reason why I can’t run a marathon if I trained for it.

See, novels are like that. Only took me twenty years to absorb that analogy. You figure, I love LotR and R.A. Salvatore’s stuff, and people are always telling me how imaginative I am, I’d love to write a novel! And then you try and don’t get anywhere, over and over again, and you feel bad about yourself and give up. Who knows why we think writing a hundred thousand words of coherent, structured, exciting narrative is the kind of thing a person should just be able to do with no training when even a goddamned toaster oven comes with instructions, but if you think of a novel as a marathon a lot falls into place.

I reckon you can train for a novel the same way you train for a marathon. A marathon requires a whole bunch of running, packed into a small time frame. You run and run and run and run, a lot, before you get to recover. Same deal with a novel, if you have any intention of cranking out more than one a decade.

And be honest: if you think you want to spend a decade carefully crafting your novel, but you’ve written pretty much nothing in the previous decade, especially at length… well, you’re probably fooling yourself. You’re saying you want to do the following with no training: thinking about what should happen next and what happens after that and after that and after that and after that in the form of a three- or four-act structure that may or may not dovetail with the Hero’s Journey but definitely needs a satisfying denouement that wasn’t telegraphed at the beginning but nonetheless follows inevitably from everything that came before…

I’m exhausted just describing that, let alone doing it in ten thousand words, let alone a hundred thousand.

See, I’m out of shape.

So, we gotta train.

The same way you can’t run a marathon in a single step, you can’t just sit down and write a novel in one sitting and if you throw at me that spin-off of National Novel Writing Month where people crank out a first draft in a weekend, or tell me anything about Kerouac and Benzedrine, you and I are through, ok? Corner cases are like lottery tickets: fun to fantasize about but let’s not peg our retirement plans on one.

You can only run a marathon by putting one foot in front of the other, over and over and over, and you can only write a novel by sitting down to write in the same iteration. If you’re anything like me, and God knows how you got through eight hundred words of this if you’re not, the place you fall off is not sitting down. Not every day, right? And not for very long. And the mind wanders. And the web browser is right there.

I decided at some point that I don’t want to run a marathon, but 10 K seems like a reasonable goal for a relatively healthy human being: I want to be able to run ten kilometres without stopping. So I looked up a plan, and the one I found basically goes like this:

  • The first day you get your shoes on and you walk for four minutes, and then run for one minute
  • Then you walk for four, then run for one, again
  • Repeat until you’ve done that four times, i.e. you were “running” for twenty minutes and you only spent four of them actually running. Because you need to condition your body.
  • You do what I just described three days in the first week.

The next week, you walk for three minutes and then run for two, repeat. And the next week, you walk for two and run for three… and on, and on, until you’re running for, say, eight minutes with two minutes of walking in between, for a total of forty minutes, until, after thirteen weeks, you are running for one hour without walking and without stopping.

Thirteen weeks is a long time, but it’s also not that long. Just like any slice of life. You might think, ugh, “can I wait thirteen weeks?” or “do I want to spend thirteen weeks?”, but the real question is, do you want to become someone who runs or remain someone who does not?

The thirteen weeks, the ten years, they pass regardless.

Replace runs with writes, and here we are.

I’ll tell you where I’m at, specifically, right now when I’m drafting this post (August 27th, 2018): I’m still not writing every single day, but I’m working on it. I’ve got a habit tracker taped to my wall, and the goal? The ultimate goal might be to become a novelist, but the right now goal is to tick the box today. And tomorrow the goal will be to tick the box. And the day after. And maybe it takes thirteen weeks or a hundred and thirty, but the same way you might realize you’ve put a hundred kilometres of pavement behind you in the past few months, and that’s a hundred more than you ran in the preceding decade, maybe you look back and there’s a pile of words behind you, and once you’re sitting on that pile… stacking up another pile of words in the form of a novel seems not just possible, but inevitable.

Not Writing is Nobody’s Fault But Ours

There was a time when I blamed my partner, the time I was spending with them, for keeping me away from the work. But the fact is, I wasn’t doing the work and thank God for my ego I had the excuse.

Today was tough, because I have gotten in the habit of spending weekends with my current partner, and so it would be easy not to write. And I didn’t go near it this morning, we were busy. But instead of not writing and then retroactively blaming them, while we were relaxing after our afternoon and planning our evening I said, before we go out, I need 20 minutes to do some writing, because I’m trying to build the habit of writing every day. And she thought that was a wonderful idea, and encouraged me to do it. Even brought me a glass of water.

So it’s good to be with someone supportive, if you’re gonna be with anyone. But the critical point is to be honest with yourself. If you want to write, and you’re not doing it, are you chained up in a cage without a way to even scratch in the dirt? No? Then no one else is keeping you from writing but you. It’s taken me a lifetime to even begin to acknowledge that and act within “I don’t feel like writing / I don’t know what to write / I’m afraid / know for certain that it won’t be good enough”, and instead of using those feelings as excuses… to give them a curt nod and then sit down and move my fingers anyway.

I’m not good at it yet, I’m bad at it. But at least I’m doing it at all, and that’s something. Stephen Pressfield talks about the decades—decades—it took for him to even begin to conquer what he calls the Resistance. If he can plunge himself into the shadows again and again and eventually find a way to win, well, so can we.

It’s easy to look at your life in your mid-thirties, let alone your forties and say, well, that’s it: I had my shot, and I fucked it up. Guess it’s all downhill from here. This is something Gary Vaynerchuk talks about a lot lately, and he’s right: God willing and the creek don’t rise, if you’re thirty-five you could easily live for another HALF A CENTURY, same if you’re forty. Giving in any time is a mistake, in my book; giving in now is downright insane.

It’s not insane, though. It’s that Resistance. The death wish. The little voice that’s always been there, since Junior High, anyway. Telling you: No. You’re bad. Lie down. Stop breathing.

How many years have you spent secretly believing that liar? It doesn’t help that our culture has mobilized an ever-growing engine, a Lovecraftian tentacled horror, dedicated to grooming and caring for those voices. Maybe your twenties and your thirties are nothing more than an exercise in learning to live with them, like a barking dog in the next yard you somehow learn to ignore, or move house. But you can’t move away from this, you can only medicate it with drugs and bad relationships (or even good relationships?) and beer and social media and hipster restaurants and posting what you eat there on Instagram, and thank God some day you’ll be dead. And then the voice will stop, sure.

But so will you. And where will be all the art you could have made?

It’s not, “don’t listen to the voice”. I spent years “not listening”, it just made me crazy. It just made me wonder, if I’m living life the way you’re sposeda, why am I sort of miserable all the time? No. The voice is there and you can’t shut it up. But there is something you can do, not about it, but in spite of it: you can learn to act anyway.

And find someone supportive. Someone who doesn’t say, come down here and watch Netflix with me instead of sitting at your computer doing whatever. That’s not their fault, you picked that relationship. Ask yourself, why? Maybe hold out for someone who’ll kiss you on the mouth and say, I’ll see you after you’re done your writing, babe. Good luck. ❤