9 Great Things About Not Writing

1. The longer it goes on, the more you save on paper, pens, toner, etc.

2. Feelings of alienation from the world of letters keeps you from getting angry about nominations lists for awards. Mostly.

3. Less wear and tear on your hard drive and/or word processor.

4. Emotional experiences build depth of character, from which good writing (eventually) flows. Guilt is a emotion. Q.E.D.

5. 2048 isn't a challenge anymore until at least one 512 tile is on the board.

6. Social withdrawal gives your writer friends more time to write and/or talk to people who are writing. Points for selflessness.

7. Fresh insights on being presented with hoary old chestnuts like, "If you can quit writing, you should quit writing." Fresh insights build depth of character (see point 4).

8. More time to come up with better ways to flog the stuff you DID write.

9. The hope that the sunshine will one day return to thaw the frozen ground of your mind. Hope is an emotion. Q.E.D.

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My thoughts about the Hugo nominations

Actually, I don't have any particular opinions about the Hugo nominations. Amid the same old, same old, (i.e. an excess of Doctor Who) there's a lot of shrieking that the WRONG books and the WRONG authors are nominated.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. The nominations process is as easy to rig and suborn as the election of your high school student council. If you've got a bunch of friends who can stuff the box for you, you're on the ticket. If you can sustain that momentum in the actual voting, you win a Hugo.

What's more to the point for me is that I only recognize the names of a couple the authors and I've read none of the novels, novellas, novelettes (whatever the hell that is) or short stories. I've read 3 of the 5 graphic stories, seen 3 of the 5 movies. Read none of the 'zines, listened to none of the podcasts.

The Hugo nominations underscore how alienated I feel from the world of science fiction writing. There's irony here and a message for someone who wrote and published a science fiction superhero novel. The irony is easy to recognize; I'm still trying to figure out what the message is.

Or perhaps I know what the message is, but am having a hard time accepting it.

UPDATE: Dang. I completely forgot that I was going to stop doing introspective, depressing, "me-centric" blog posts.

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Where is my Pryde?

The new (and final) trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past is much more compelling than any of the others I've seen:

However, while I understand the necessity of changing the storyline from the original comic book to make Wolverine the one who mentally goes back in time instead of Kitty Pryde, I still find the switch a bit disappointing.

When the storyline appeared back in 1980 (or was it 1981? can't remember), Kitty was still a kid, very much the inexperienced junior member of the X-Men. In fact, was the trouble that 15-year-old Kitty had in being on a team of adults which led Professor X to form the New Mutants. Well, that and the rising popularity of the X-Men as a comic franchise.

Anyway, one of the big aspects of Days of Future Past was how Kitty turned into a kick-ass hero who didn't take any shit. Forty years in the future, Kat Pride is a hardened veteran and bitter survivor of the Sentinel genocide of mutants and any human who carried latent mutant genes, slaughter of all superheroes, and ultimate enslavement of most of humanity. A final desperate plan sends Kat's mind back into the body of Kitty, her younger self.

Wolverine was especially taken aback by the change from hesitant kid, uncertain of her powers to a confident leader of warriors. Later, when Nightcrawler failed as leader of the X-Men and Storm gave up the role, Wolverine regarded Kitty as the de facto leader, something she found irritating in light of her relative youth. I tend to think that he was responding to the leadership potential he'd seen in her during the Days of Future Past storyline.

The big difference in the movie's take is that Wolverine is already a hard-bitten warrior, both in the Sentinel-blasted future and in the alt-timeline 1970s. Perhaps the saving grace will be that his big challenge is in having to rise above his lone wolf persona to become, not merely a team player, but a proactive team builder.

We shall see.
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Imposter or Impostor?

It was pointed out to me yesterday that in my various posts about imposter syndrome, I've been misspelling "imposter". Even after lifting a quote which spelled it correctly (i.e. with an -or), I continued to spell it with an -er.

Shocked at my own incompetence and determined to rewrite history, I went into my post editor to fix this error. Before I did, though, I checked a few dictionaries. It turns out that my -er spelling is not merely an acceptable variant spelling, it's nearly as common (and nearly as old) as the -or spelling.

In general, American English tends to favor -or, while International English tends to favor -er. In this globally connected world, the best thing one can do is adhere to house style and be consistent about it. Since I'm the house, I choose -er.

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Dancing cats

For a little while, I forgot what the Internet was for.

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Imposter syndrome vs. "reality"

In my post of last week, I talked about imposter syndrome: what it feels like, how it affects me, and its impact on my writing. From the Caltech Counseling Center:
The impostor syndrome is associated with highly achieving, highly successful people. This makes impostor feelings somewhat different from the concept of "low self-esteem" because there is a discrepancy between the actual achievement and the person's feelings about the achievement that may not be present in low self-esteem. People in different professions such as teachers, people in the social sciences, people in academia, actresses and actors, may all have impostor feelings. It was originally associated with women but recent research indicated that men suffer in similar numbers.
That bit about women is no joke. If you do any Googling about it, you'll see that a lot of discussion about imposter syndrome focuses on successful women, within the context of feminism, how women function in the workplace, and so on. 

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a man, not a woman. If my talking about imposter syndrome seems strange, makes me look weird or makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to go read my book instead. Its got explosions in it.

Anyway, several people responded to my post with variations of, "But you HAVE professionally published stories. You HAVE written and published a novel. You HAVE been paid for your writing. Those things are real, not fake. End of story." My response was cogent enough that I'll reproduce it here:
I wish it were that simple. The issue is not the facts before me - those are incontrovertible. It's my reactions to those facts that are problematic. To rewire my mind so as to have a different constellations of emotions triggered by a given set of stimuli would be a great trick. I'm not bothered by spiders, but I've got a serious thing about stinging insects. Why can't I just rewire my mind about that stuff while I'm at it?

Emotions are not automatically translated into actions, however. One's emotional response can be controlled through will and intellect so that it doesn't become the primary driver of behavior. As an adult, I've learned to not freak out and start swatting at things when faced with a wasp at eye level. That doesn't mean I'm not still really bothered by them.

Similarly, although I feel like a tremendous fraud as a writer, I know that my next book is waiting for me when my current hiatus is over. I'll feel guilty for putting another one over on you, and afraid that the reaction will be, "When will he realize that we all know he can't write?" Those are emotional responses. As a rational adult, I'll try not to let myself be driven by emotions alone.
That's kinda how it is, how it always has been, and, I suspect, how it always will be.

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A big, fat fraud

Of all my flaws and failings, the hardest to overcome is the imposter syndrome. As a writer (and in other fields of endeavor), I skate through life on thin blades, trusting that the only thing that prevents you all from seeing exactly how incompetent I am is my ability to maintain the fiction of competence.

There's a school of thought which says, "Fake it until you make it." Taken through the lens of impostor syndrome, this approach means that the skill I've developed to the keenest degree is not the ability to write, but the ability to fake it.

I started a blog and wrote blog posts until you couldn't tell me from a real blogger. I wrote flash fiction stories until I got good enough at it that I could trick you into thinking I could write decent flash fiction stories. I critted, beta-read, and edited other people's work until I became a more convincing editor. I wrote and abandoned a dozen half-novels in preparation for writing an actual novel - a perfectly unassailable prop to sustain the fiction that I'm a novelist. I even have a WIP in the can, awaiting my attention. What could be more convincing for this act I'm perpetuating than a half-finished sophomore effort?

All of these accomplishments feel to me like expertly forged papers, with a fake name and a photoshopped picture. Written in a language that is not my mother tongue, they are the passport, driver's license, and birth certificate which allows me to move freely in a country not my own. I feel as though I'm not an immigrant, or even a resident alien, but still on a tourist visa.

However much I work to learn the ways and customs, however hard I work to erase my foreigner's accent, I suspect I'll always feel a stranger in this strange land.

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The best joke ever

Romeo: "Juliet, Juliet! I'm burning with passion for you!"

Juliet: "Oh, Romeo... don't make such a fuel of yourself."

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Controversial blog posts

Every now and then, I think I should do a blog post discussing the role of minority characters, closeted homosexual characters, and class-conscious/class-aspirational characters in my book, "Verbosity's Vengeance".

Then I remember that, because it's primarily a geeky superhero novel, I never should have put all that complex, multi-layered literary stuff in there in the first place. It was especially ill-advised to interweave it and rely on the reader to pick up on it, instead of simply bludgeoning the reader over the head with it.

So that blog post goes unwritten.

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#FridayFlash: Waiting for Inspiration

The therapist's pen stopped, mid-sentence. She looked up from her pad, her face set in a well-practiced expression of calm concern mixed with caring support and professional interest. It was an expression she'd worked on in front of a mirror.

"You've mentioned thoughts of suicide before," she said, "but this is the first time I've heard you say that you've already written a note."

"No," the patient said, "I guess I haven't really talked about it."

"And what can you tell me about the note?"

"Just that it's not good enough. Like everything else in my life, it's terrible. It's probably the worst suicide note anybody ever wrote. It's an embarrassment, really."

"I see."

"Honestly, that's the only thing that's kept me from throwing myself off the roof of my apartment building. I'm still revising it, trying to get it to sound right. I can't bear the thought that I'll finally work up the courage to kill myself, only to leave behind a trite, stupid-sounding suicide note."

"What I'm hearing is that you aren't satisfied with the note you've written. Is that right?"

The patient sighed. "It's not that I'm not satisfied with it. It's that it sucks. I want to write something that will MOVE people, that will really encapsulate the pain and black emptiness that consumes me. I want them all to understand just what a bitter joke my life has become, and why the world would be a better place without me."

"This is something you want 'people' to understand? Who, specifically? Who do you want to communicate this to?"

"I don't know. Everybody. Nobody."

"Do you feel that you're going to attempt suicide soon? When you leave here today, what do you see yourself doing?"

"Soon? Not likely. I can't get the damned words right. I just don't know what to do, doctor."

The therapist set down the pen and pad, then rose to move to her desk. She picked up the phone and started dialing.

"Here's what we're going to do. I don't want you to go home. I'm going to admit you to St. Anthony's for a couple of days of observation. There are some tests I want to run before we take a fresh look at your medication schedule."

"Can I bring my note? Work on it while I'm in the hospital?"

"I'd like to see it, yes. We can go over it together." She turned and spoke quietly into the phone, better at keeping urgency out of her expression than she was at keeping it out of her voice.

The patient lay on the couch, staring at the ceiling.

"You know," he said to himself, barely above a whisper, "maybe a writing retreat IS just what I need."

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You did something wrong

Comment Of The Day Award goes to Paul Anderson:
You did something wrong. Accept it. Learn from it. Grow up. Stop blaming everyone else for your screw ups. Part of being an adult is accepting your faults, owning them, and moving on. But the longer you spew insults at people, the less inclined they will be to forgive you.
Words to live by, people.

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Terribly tired

Terribly tired after a long, complicated, difficult day.

Terribly tired but don't want to go to bed, don't want to go to sleep.

Terribly tired means I don't want to interact with anyone, yet I don't really want to be alone, either.

Terribly tired is justification enough for a wandering blog post, but not enough fuel for Twitter or Facebook.

Terribly tired and wondering who I am, exactly, and why I never finished that one thing that was going really well and which lots of people liked.

Terribly tired so making this brief, and yet, perhaps, not nearly brief enough.

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Don't steal my work, Kiko

It's not really important how I came to discover that Kiko E. Coyona plagiarized one of my blog posts.

It's not really important that what he/she used my funny blog post for is to give his/her fanfiction about Sonic the Hedgehog (or some such thing) a literary boost that it wouldn't have if he/she had actually written it him/herself.

It's not even important that, just now, when I tried to copy and paste the offending passages in order to show how blatantly my 12 Things Successful Assassins Do Differently blog post was ripped off, I was thwarted by Fanfiction.net, which, apparently, does not allow copy and paste. I guess they're worried about plagiarists. (I put a screen capture of it down below, in the TL/DR part of this post.)

What's important is that the specific arrangement of these specific words belongs to me. It's mine. Sticking in a few clumsy dialogue tags doesn't change that. Maybe you never noticed the Copyright Notice that appears at the bottom of every page on this blog, Kiko, but let me repost it here:

Copyright Notice
I retain ownership and copyright on this blog and everything it contains, perpetually, on any and all media, and throughout this and every other universe. Feel free to link to this blog, but please get my permission to reproduce or make extensive quotations of the material you see here.

See that? I said "please". That's me being polite. I didn't have to do that. I could have said, "... or else I will use whatever eldritch magiks I can lay hands on so as to bind your plagiarist sins to your soul with bands of thorn and fire for the rest of all eternity."

I was polite. Please be so kind as to return the favor.

- Tony Noland

What's important, Kiko, is that you apparently fancy yourself something of a writer. Plagiarizing someone else's work makes you a writer in the same way that being a crack whore makes you a movie star.

I am angry with you, Kiko, but mostly I pity you. You've surrendered the chance to become an actual writer, preferring instead to sleep in the gutter of a bleak, dead-end street. There was a small sapling taking root in you, but you ripped it out and replaced it with a branch you broke off of my tree, the splintered end jammed artlessly into the thin soil of your fanfic.

Do you really think that makes you a writer, Kiko? Do you? For your sake, I hope not. It's no shortcut to leech off someone else's work that way. Learn from this experience, Kiko, and do your own work, or a long life of inchoate, unfulfilled bitterness awaits you.

Take down your post, apologize to me and your readers, go forth and sin no more.

Maybe you can be a writer, maybe you can't. But at least you will be able to hold your head high and know that, whether they earn you bruises or baubles, the words will be YOURS.

Here's the TL/DR (click the images to enlarge to readable size):

What I wrote on January 24, 2012...

... and what Kiko E. Coyona "wrote" on May 17, 2013.
UPDATE: Under pressure from me and my knife-edge crew (including @introvertedwife, @girl_onthego, @panderson1979, among others), the offending passages (i.e. my entire blog post) have been stripped out. This line was added to the bottom of the blog post:

So there you go. I would have preferred, "I'm sorry for stealing your work, Tony Noland" to an all-caps "FUCK YOU TONY NOLAND AND BLABLOVERS", but I'll take what I can get.

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My Almost-Winning #GrammarDay Haiku

The haiku I submitted for the #GrammarDay Haiku Contest finished in the Top 10! Go over and read the post with the winning entry, the runners-up, and the rest of the Top 10.

Behold the power of poetry!

Also, buy my book. Because if you like my poetry, you'll love the Grammarian! (Or you could get this book of stories for free. Your call.)

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Free book

Blood Picnic and other stories, my collection of flash fiction and short stories, is free this week at Smashwords. Just use the coupon code EL92F when you check out.

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The Bathroom Monologues: What Recharges Writing?

Since my well seems to have run dry, I'll point you to this piece by John Wiswell:

The Bathroom Monologues: What Recharges Writing?: I’ve been wondering a lot lately about how to recharge writing. There are some people who never seem to stop – Stephen King infamously ...

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Paging Dr. Liebster... Dr. Liebster, Line One

A few days ago, I was given the Liebster Award by Katherine Hajer, a gracious writer and crafty artist.
Those who are Liebstered thank their nominator (thanks, Katherine!), answer the questions posed to them, nominate more people, and pose their own questions.
My nominees are:

1. Michael Robinson, he of the Digital Scofflaw blog. Michael has a sense of humor similar to mine, which, although it must be a burden in daily life, it at least got him a Liebster Award.
2. Sabrina Zbasnik, she of the Introverted Wife blog. Sabrina writes about dwarves in space (among other things), which is a pretty cool mashup.

My questions for them:
  1. When did you start writing?
  2. Has anyone ever actually told you not to quit your day job?
  3. Is there a favorite food you eat that gives you inspiration to write?
  4. Microsoft Word: love it, hate it, or something else?
  5. Do you own an e.book reader, or use e.book software? If so, what kind? If not, do you see one in your future?
  6. You're given a book promotion opportunity to sit in a bookstore window and write. People passing by will be able to read your work as you produce it. Do you agree?
  7.  Is there a crowd/gang/posse/support group of writers you belong to, either in person or online?
  8. What's your minimum length for a novel?
  9. "Write drunk, edit sober." Is this good advice?
  10. Can you have a strong opinion about an author's personality, political views, social positions, etc., without having that color your opinion about the author's work?

My answers to Katherine's questions:
  1. Do you have one place you write in, several regular places, or are you a "writing nomad" (write where you can)? I write at different networked computers in various locations. However, I map out ideas with pen and paper all over the place, usually when I'm supposed to be paying attention to something else.
  2. What are your favourite writing tools (either physical or software)? Favorite software tools are yWriter5 and Dropbox. Favorite physical writing tool is my Parker 51 fountain pen.
  3. What is your biggest writing "win" from the last twelve months? That would have to be publishing my superhero novel, "Verbosity's Vengeance", which came out last September. It's a clear milestone in my writing career.
  4. Author and genre comparisons can be tricky, but what are some signs that a reader will like your books (ie: if they liked X book or like work by Y author, they should check out your books)? If you liked The Phantom Tollbooth, Tuesday Next or the Avengers, you'll like my book.
  5. The universe grants you power over all of writer-dom for one day. What's the one thing you make all writers stop (or start) doing? Stop being dismissive of people who have different tastes in literature. That, and stop picking on semicolons.
  6. Recognising that everyone on my nomination list writes in the science fiction/fantasy/horror end of the spectrum — how much time to you spend on planning and envisioning your setting relative to character development? Setting and plot are probably weighted 5X as much as character.
  7. Does your setting come first, your characters, or a combination of both? I'm much more likely to say, "Here's an interesting thing that can happen, let's put someone in there" than I am to say, "Here's an interesting person, what can I do with her?"
  8. How much research do you do when working on a story? I try not to get too bogged down in research during first drafts. You can spend hours nailing down details that you might need to change later.
  9. What are your favourite sources for setting inspiration? Probably movies, followed by real life. I've been fortunate enough to have done a fair bit of travel around the world, but that's nothing compared to the places the movies can take you.
  10. If you could spend time in one of your settings, which one would you pick and how long would you stay there? Setting: I'd love to go out on patrol with the Grammarian. Zooming down rain-slick streets on a meme-enhanced motorcycle, chasing the bad guys to a deserted warehouse and jumping straight into a life-and-death firefight with high-tech weaponry - how cool would THAT be? How long I'd stay: right up to the point of getting my ass kicked. Then I'd drop out and leave the superhero derring-do to the professionals.

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Marvel's magic touch

I never read the Guardians of the Galaxy comics. When I heard that Marvel Studios was making a GotG movie, it was a real head-scratcher. As an ensemble cast, GotG is WAY, WAY downmarket from the Avengers. I know an ensemble movie is different than a buddy movie, so you can't compare GotG with such potential pairings as (for example) Power Man & Iron Fist or Cloak & Dagger.

Even considering the fact that Marvel Studios doesn't have the rights to the marquee ensembles (X-Men & Fantastic Four), why GotG? Why not another minor ensemble like the Defenders? Or the West Coast Avengers?

But I have to say, Marvel seems to know what it's doing. When I watched the various trailers for Superman Broods and Mopes and for Batman Growls Again, I just didn't feel any particular drive to see the flicks, even though I know and (mostly) like the characters. Watching this trailer (which is such an obligatory backstory infodump it might as well be labeled Introducing The Guardians of the Galaxy), I still got a sense of place, of characters, of engagement, and of exciting fun.

Now, instead of wondering why Marvel is wasting its time on this minor-league team, I'm looking forward to seeing the flick. Well played, Marvel. Well played.

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What being apart looks like

It's kind of appropriate that my name falls entirely in the lanthanides & actinides. My superhero/science fiction/grammar humor book is like a postcard from The Island Of Misfit Writers ("Having a great time - wish you were here.").

Much like "Verbosity's Vengeance", I expect that this bit of wit will be regarded as remarkably clever by ~0.0001% of the English-speaking world, although perhaps a hundred times as many will understand it right away (i.e. ~0.01%).

It begs the question of why I insist on telling jokes that cater to the narrow, narrow demographic overlap of (knows the significance of lanthanides & actinides on the periodic table) with (appreciates sadly lyrical metaphors). A screening test to select members of my "tribe"? Intellectual snobbery? Simple self-congratulatory showing off of education and erudition? Needy preening?

Grammar jokes, chemistry jokes... not exactly what appeals to the mass market, are they?

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Writers write, talkers talk, bleeders bleed

On the one hand, there's this post by Gareth Powell, who draws a distinction between people who talk about writing, and who dream of being a writer, but who don't actually write anything. Writers write all the time; talkers just talk all the time.

On the other hand, there's this post from Emma Newman, who talks about the times of recharging necessary after periods of exceptionally high-volume outlays of energy. Output -- refractory period -- output -- refractory period -- output.

I've been burning the candle at both ends for months and months, dealing with lots of things that aren't related to writing. There are no breaks from it; as one thing winds down, another thing winds up to take its place. I'm expecting (hoping?) that things will settle down in a couple of months and writing can resume its place in a more balanced life. Another post tells me that this is irrelevant wimp talk. If I were serious about being a writer, I'd be writing anyway, chewing on the broken glass and stabbing myself with freshly sharpened pencils, forcing the blood to flow and ignoring the pain like a REAL man.

Er, a real writer.

I wonder sometimes if there is a gender-based perspective on the dichotomy of "Be self-aware and use self-care. It's a marathon, not a sprint." vs. "You're the one who wanted to be a writer! Shut up and take the pain!" If so, then I have to conclude that I'm actually a woman, which means I can stop shaving.

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The Three-Ring Binder of Doom

The novel I'm working on at the moment is a hardcopy in a three-ring binder. (n.b. The first version of the preceding sentence had the words "working on" in quotation marks, so as to more accurately reflect just how much work I'm getting done on it.)

I carry this binder from place to place in the same way Frodo carried the Ring of Doom. Like the Ring of Doom, it was pretty cool... at first. Invoking it, I would disappear, and the world around me became wild and magical. I could do things and go places I never could without it.

However, like the Ring of Doom, the longer I carry it, the more fraught with dangerous import it becomes. Lately, using it is terrifying. There are monsters abroad who want nothing more (and nothing else) than my destruction... or at least, that's the vision that's revealed to me when I invoke the Three-Ring Binder of Doom. Terror and horrors await within.

I carry this WIP with me, thinking about it, touching it, dreaming of it, but never, never actually working on it. I recoil from the thought of what nightmares the thing is made of, but I never let it out of my sight. I dare not use it, but I can't abandon it. It defines my existence, it's too important to me, it's too... precious.

My precious, precious novel. My preciousssss......

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Snow days

It's snowing heavily here, coming down at the rate of an inch an hour. It's thrown off the schedules of everyone, cancelling schools, closing businesses and (for me) postponing things I had planned for today. This unexpected disruption in my schedule prompts me to wonder about the writing that I'm not doing, that I've told myself I've put on hiatus for awhile. Yes, I'm focused on adjusting my life to my new job, but it feels like more than that. I'm feeling increasingly alienated from the writing life.

Was it really only last September that I published "Verbosity's Vengeance"? It feels like something done by someone else. Looking at the Amazon page for it, I try to recapture the anxiety over flat sales and plummeting sales ranks, but all I can come up with is tired sadness. It's hard to shake the feeling that the book exists only in my mind, an experience for me to learn from, not as a product to be promoted or purchased.

I pull out the first draft of my WIP and barely recognize it. It's page after page of turgid, fractured, meandering nonsense. The notes in the margins on how to fix it are mine; the handwriting is mine, so the notes must be, too. What's needed is a complete overhaul, not simple revisions. Where is the energy and enthusiasm for this work? Where is the joy? Is it still a work in progress if you don't want to do the work? And if the work seems to have no more point or purpose than shoveling water? What then?

It takes a lot of energy to be a writer, and even more to pretend to be a writer. As the snow falls and the cold settles over the world, I'm left to wonder if, having run out of that energy, I've also lost the ability (or the will) to recharge it.

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