Guest Post from Brooke Bolander: This Too Shall Pass

Brooke Bolander is the nymph stage of a foul-mouthed cicada that only emerges from the earth once every thirty years. She’s also a larval writer and Clarion UCSD grad, with stories featured or upcoming in issues of Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Reflection’s Edge, and [PANK]. For more aimless ramblings, check out her website at brookebolander.com or, if you’re into that kinky social networking shit, her tweet-thing @BBolander.

It’s okay if you can’t get it up sometimes.

No, really, it happens to everybody. Here, you want a tissue? Cool. Seriously, this is something everyone has experienced before. Shit’s going on in your life and it has you stressed. Your condo exploded. Your dog was run over by your ex, driving to his or her wedding. Your mother won’t stop ringing your mobile, there are a million deadlines looming, and Imposter Syndrome is rapping that curt ‘I am an Authority Figure’ knock at the front door, briefcase in hand, sunglasses on, dark suit immaculately pressed. He sees you peeking through the blinds and he knows what you are, oh yes. He knows.

(You can’t ignore that motherfucker, by the way. He doesn’t go away until addressed, and you’re never entirely rid of him no matter how many years pass. Imposter Syndrome gives no fucks about your sales, your SFWA membership, or your agent. He’s got a job to do, and like some sort of spectral Tommy Lee Jones he doesn’t care whether or not you’re innocent. Nothing personal, you understand. Making you doubt everything you’ve accomplished is just part of a day’s work for him. He is our tribe’s grim-faced probation officer of the soul.)

People talk a lot of talk about how you should be writing every day no matter WHAT, all the time, even if it’s crap, what’s wrong with you WHY AREN’T YOU WRITING, but like most things in life, I have to say that tactic works for some and not for others. If I do this, I am not a happy camper. I end up more miserable than I was staring at the dreaded polar bear with a lash in her eye that is the blinking cursor. I don’t want to scribble out something I’m not proud of, god-dammit, I want to write something good. I’m not saying you should wait for the perfect word muse to descend from on high with your thumb up your butt, ’cause that’s a load of horseshit (full disclosure: I usually do my best work with a deadline breathing carrion and ground bone down my nape). All I’m saying is this: If you have a string of bad days where nothing gets done, don’t feel too bad about them, even if they last a year. Are you worrying about it? Is it nagging at you like a cat demanding breakfast? Are you at least trying occasionally, even if you end up deleting everything after four hours of weeping and awkward fumbling? That’s good. That is the feeling coursing through your frostbitten fingers. If you don’t feel any kind of trepidation, that, my friend, is when you should start to worry. I hear crocheting is a popular hobby. The couches of the world can always use more yellow and brown afghan blankets; what else will the bass players sleep under?

Story time, kids: I had a writer’s block that lasted three years, mostly due to Imposter Syndrome. My first short story sold in late 2008. I was very proud of that tiny accomplishment and the $15.00 check it netted. I basked in my baby step for a couple of weeks, then settled back down to start all over again, as y’do. “Oh boy!” says I. “Somebody bought something I wrote! The barquentine Self-Doubt is gonna get its shit wrecked on the shoals of Pure Ego from now on, I can feel it! Look out, pro markets! Watch your backs, big name authors! I’m gunning for you, and my hands don’t shake anymore!”

Fade out. Fade in to six months later: my bloodshot, dark-circled eyes. A year later: I am Miss Fucking Havisham, glowering and cradling the rags of my first success even though they are chock-full of spiders. Two more years passed in this fashion. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying or worrying about it. I was plenty worried about what the hell was going on, I just couldn’t get it together to finish anything, no matter how hard I tried. This went on until last spring, when, without warning, the blockage passed and I finally splattered a torrent of words I liked onto the porcelain processor. I’ve never had a problem that severe since. I am probably jinxing myself horribly saying it aloud, but hey, truth’s truth.

Keep stubbornly headbutting Writer’s Block in the nose and, although it may cackle and spit blood in your face for awhile, eventually the asshole will crack and hit the concrete. Don’t get discouraged, don’t get despondent, don’t get worried if things get all gummed up for a long, long time. The only universal rule is this: Don’t Give Up. You give up, you’re screwed. If you want people to hear your stories bad enough, sooner or later you’ll find the energy, the time, and most importantly of all, the words.

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  • Great post!  Lots of smart stuff in there.

  • Terrific post. Humorously done but with that painful undercurrent of truth.  I’m currently undergoing a similar problem. After selling and publishing my first pro sale last year, my writing hit the brakes so fast there are tyre tracks across my keyboard. I started stories that I couldn’t finish. I plot novels that I never start. I’m still struggling, but the attitude is improving and have at least edited a few old stories and submitted them again.

    Thanks for sharing. It’s always refreshing to hear other writers share such occurrences.

  • Stina

    this is lovely. really, really lovely. and true.

    and don’t give that f*cker in the suit my address ever again. okay? 😉