The inability to whistle

It seemed so simple, at the time. Let’s hop into the wayback machine and go back to just before Halloween, 2007.

I was in a funk, for several reasons. Part of it, I’m chagrined to say, was about a girl. Part of it was out of whack levels of serotonin and dopamine in by brain. And part of it was a deep uncertainty about writing. I knew I could write, but it had lost all fun, all flavor, for me. I was torn between several projects, intimidated by the idea of blogging about them as I wrote, resentful of my writer’s critique group, and just generally out of sorts about writing. I was no longer convinced that a passion for stories and the ability to write was enough to make a writer.

So, in keeping with a sacred tradition of ambivalent writers going back to Plato, I went to a SciFi convention. Mile Hi Con, a little local thing they do every year in Denver. The big session of the day was with David Weber, and I was looking forward to it. I love his Honor Harrington series and wanted to grill him about my writerly concerns. I sat through the opening stuff and waited patiently for him to start taking questions. When he did, I got called on.

“Before you had book contracts and obligations,” I asked, “did you ever think about just giving up on writing and doing something else?” I wanted to know if my wishy-washiness was a normal part of the process.

In retrospect, he gave me exactly the answer I should have expected from a prolific, publishing writer, the same answer I’d have gotten from Isaac Asimov or Stephen King. No, he never thought about it. Weber has been making a living from the written word in one way or another (he wrote a lot of ad copy before Baen signed him) since his was sixteen. He’s never had any doubts.

Well, crap, I thought. That’s no gorram help at all.

I wandered around the con for a few more hours, bouncing back and forth between two groups of friends who had showed up independently. Eventually I found my way to a tiny presentation room about 20 minutes early for the next session, one on query letters. The folks from the previous presentation were still milling about in the empty room, among them a midlist SF writer named Hoyt and her husband (who identified himself as an actual rocket scientist). We started chatting, just killing time, and I figured, why not try them.

“Oh, yeah,” Mrs. Hoyt said. “I’ve tried to quit several times. Never sticks.” She and her husband explained that writing is a hard trade with little to no reward and the only reason to do it all was if you couldn’t stop yourself. They passed on some advice on the same question once given by Orson Scott Card: If you can walk away (from writing), walk away whistling.

It seemed so simple, so freeing. Just don’t be a writer. See if I can do other things. And for a while, it was freeing. So freeing that I quit a bunch of other habits, too. About that time I became increasingly frustrated with the failure of the Democratic party to do anything to stand up to the now minority Republicans, so I stopped following politics and stopped listening to the Rachel Maddow Show on Air America. Then I stopped listening to podcasts at all. I didn’t stop following the mobile tech world, but I did stop actively participating in it. I stopped blogging and stopped posting on forums, only lurking in silence. Now, I thought, I’ll have time to devote to other pursuits.

As it turns out, aside from the aforementioned girl, I have no other pursuits. And as the month of November drug on, I sank deeper and deeper into depression got to the point where my close friends really started to worry about me. My particular neurochemical imbalance manifests itself mostly as Bipolar Disorder (with noticeable splashes of OCD, ADD and anxiety disorder for flavor) and I started doing a textbook BPD behavior known as rapid cycling. I’d be mostly rational one day, then completely bugshit emotional and out of control the next, then back to normal, then bugshit again, on a just about daily rhythm. It was spooky, and not just for me. I’d have to leave the room at work so I could go cry about…

See, that’s the thing, on this side of it, with my rational brain back in control, I’m not really sure what all the fuss was about. I know I was in a lot of pain, and a lot of it was loneliness and the fear that that I’d grow old and die alone, but while I can see now that it doesn’t have to be that way, and there’s things I can do to improve my life, at the time it really seemed hopeless, that there was no way out. It’s a good thing I no longer carry anything with me that can tear open a carotid artery, is what I’m saying.

I hit rock bottom around the end of the month, and it became clear that I couldn’t go on like that. And then it happened, in the back of my mind, shouting to be heard over my batshit internal monologue, I heard a voice. My voice. But not anything like the thoughts I’d been having. It was calm, rational, and most importantly, full of practical suggestions on how I could change things so they wouldn’t hurt so much anymore. Over the course of a day or so, I started to listen.

And one of the first things the voice (me, I get that, I’m not schizophrenic) told me was that I needed to start writing again. That I can’t walk away whistling, I can’t even survive very long without writing. (It also told me to see a real psychiatrist instead of letting my GP prescribe brain drugs and to clean up my damn apartment already, among other things.) But when I start writing, to write for me, no one else. Write for the story, not the audience. I had become so caught up in thoughts of marketability and publication that I’d forgotten about story, about the magic of telling a tale. I’d become so hidebound about avoiding groans from my writer’s critique group that I dreaded sitting down to write.

I won’t make those mistakes this time (I’ll make completely new mistakes, but I’ll burn that bridge when I get to it). This time around I’m approaching writing not as a soon-to-be-bestselling-author practicing his craft, but as a regular person with a hobby. A hobby I don’t seem to be able to walk away from, a hobby I might just need to keep my sanity, but a hobby nonetheless. Once I’m done writing a book, and only then, I might think about shopping it around for publication. Maybe. But the writing, that’s for me.

And to keep that batshit nutbag in my head down to a dull roar.

One thought on “The inability to whistle”

  1. Hmmm, why does the advice to write for yourself and not worry about publishing sound familiar? 😛

    But seriously, I totally agree, just write, about whatever inspires you.

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