Stuck Between Ambition and Sloth

I’ve declared my novel done twice now, and been wrong both times. I’m not done. This lays a severe crimp in my plans to land a publishing deal that makes my nemesis writhe in envy.

I mean, it could still happen, but not without a lot of work first. And therein lies the problem, which is that I am fundamentally lazy and have a short attention span, and so going back to the same novel, again and again and again… well, even my motivational technique of spiting my nemesis is wearing thin.

This also puts the kibosh on my other plan, which is to write more short fiction again, which I was going to do by setting the audacious goal of writing something new every month and also revising something every month. I stuck to that goal for two months, and then failed to keep it for another four months.

This isn’t new territory. I have a long history of failed writing goals, most of which centre around some notion that I will write on a regular basis. I dream of one, concentrated binge where I produce lots of work, and then can sit back for a long time submitting from a large stock of well-written stories and then just tinker and fiddle now and again.

I get through each novel revision by convincing myself that once I make these changes, the novel will be done, will sell, will do fantastically well and I will never have to write again. I mean, I could dabble, but only now and then. But until I have an actual published book, I cannot just quit, and thus I am stuck between ambition and sloth.

Is it time to accept that my process is one of short, infrequent bursts? I don’t know. I don’t want this to be my process, since that seems very low volume.

On the other hand, self-motivation, discipline and routine have never been among my strong suits. I do everything in short, infrequent bursts.

I suppose the best I can do is to try and make them less infrequent.


Is this Cultural Appropriation?

I follow a lot of writers on Twitter who are much more activist than I am (this is a low bar; I’m not really an activist at all) and I have to admit that sometimes a controversy or issue flares up, and I am totally confused about what the problem is. So most of the time, I don’t feel like I know anything about racism or cultural appropriation or the many related issues that gets Twitter a-tweeting.

But then I see someone saying something truly boneheaded about these things, and I realize that maybe I know a little bit of something. Like, possibly enough to not make a complete ass of myself, although granted, I have such a limited platform that any ass-making I do is not likely to be noticed.

So I’m going to say some things here, and maybe make an ass of myself doing it, because frankly, it happens. These days, I think we all have to get comfortable with the idea that it’s okay to be wrong sometimes, and it’s okay to have people publicly point that out.

The problem I see is that people are looking for simple rules. Tell me what to do and say, and I will follow that to a tee, because I am a Good Person(tm) and then I will carry on with my life and never have to think about any of this again.

I still remember when people could declare themselves a Good Person(tm) because they used certain words instead of others. Don’t say cripple, say physically challenged. Don’t say chink, say Asian. (Don’t say short, say vertically challenged, as the joke went.) So people did a quick substitution of words, patted themselves on the back, carried on.

And now people are confused, because there’s this “Cultural Appropriation” notion out there, and they want simple rules again. “So am I never allowed to make curry? Do I quit yoga?” Or they relate it to their own cultures. “How is drinking beer on St. Patrick’s Day cultural appropriation? Everyone likes to drink beer!” Or they wonder what will become of anything creative. “What about fusion cooking? What about that bhartnatyam-hiphop dance video, is that wrong now? Can’t we all get along?”

The crux of the matter is, it’s not simple. The point is that it never was simple. There’s no singular set of rules you can mindlessly follow to ensure that you are a Good Person(tm).

You need to be mindful. You need to think about your intentions. You need to think about the effect of your choices. You need to think about the power structures underlying all this.

You need to think about who does not get a voice because you are talking over them.

You need to realize that you can love a culture and have nothing but the best intentions, and still appropriate it. Your desire to make art doesn’t give you special exemptions.

You need to consider these questions with respect to each different culture. Wearing a bindi isn’t the exactly the same as wearing a feathered headdress.

Does this sound like a powerful amount of overthinking that will paralyze you and prevent you from writing? Yes, possibly. I know a lot of writers who have been so paralyzed.

So what do you do about that?

Start with writing. Then start thinking. Then revise. Get feedback if you can find people willing and capable of reading for cultural sensitivity. Think and revise some more.

And then if you put it out there, be prepared for the possibility that you may make an ass of yourself. Get comfortable with the idea that it’s okay to be wrong, and it’s okay for people to publicly point that out. Should that happen, do you best to listen and learn, even if what you hear makes you uncomfortable.

There are no easy mindless rules.