Pre-Publication Syndrome

19 May

So, I write this, not because I have a particular topic for it but because right now, I need to write.

I’m stuck in that moment before first publication, a moment that in my journalism days I didn’t even realize existed. You don’t get this feeling on a journalism piece; journalistic writing is published at a set time, on a set date. You scramble to get it done on time, working fast, efficient, and thorough. And, after what some might consider the busiest twenty four hours of their lives (if that), they actually decide not to publish it, then it is for the better. If it’s actually so bad that instead of chopping it up and hashing it up like journalism editors are prone to do, they actually decide to throw it out and take a bath on the quality of their product, then believe me, you did not want it published. (Don’t worry, everything I ever wrote was published; but I’ve dealt with all forms of flak on the job.)

Fiction, so it seems, is quite different. I don’t have the twenty-four-hour rush to get the story done, I have a three month wait just to find out if the story is published. I’m not the last best hope on the story, either; I’m in line next to a thousand other people, all trying to fit into the five or six writers that are going to wind their way into that issue. We are all in competition with one another, and we all know it; it isn’t personal, it’s just real. It has, needless to say, made me quite stressed.

So today, I have a dozen projects that I could be getting to. I’m working on building a game, just for my dear Sparo; I’ve got an additional short story coming along; I have a few books I want to finish reading. I have all of Sunday. And in spite of this, I look at the page or the code or the book and all I can see is noise. I find myself cooking simple things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (bacon and eggs, pre-packaged stuffed clams, take-out curry soup, etcetera), artlessly. I cling to simple procedures, like relatively easy-to-follow video games, to feel like I’m accomplishing something even if something mundane. And slowly, the sun drifts down toward the horizon, and I know that my day is coming to an end.

I’m a little closer to my 4:00 AM sustenance shift at the warehouse tomorrow, a little closer to death, a little closer to destiny. Yes, I’m stressed.

I think back on other great works, like the Tao Te Ching, and remember the story behind their writing. Lao Tsu wrote it because he had to; he was stopped by an imperial guard after leaving the monk business, who demanded by his authority that he should record everything he had discovered as a monk (of the greatest anarchist in history). I think of Emily Dickinson, who lived her entire life without publishing anything, and became famous beyond description for her brilliant poetry post-mortem. Neither of these stories are comforting to a man with one place left to go. Then, I think of more recent people, like J.K. Rowling, not that I’ve ever read a single Harry Potter book. (I’m not avoiding them, I just have so much else to read.) I remember being told that she was in a situation analogous to my own when she published, properly, her first book. I remember that that light isn’t out yet.

Then, as it is prone to, my sense of statistics and probability kicks in and I scramble for some kind of a backup plan; then my sense of hope kicks in and my backup plan circles back to doing the same thing I’ve always done. I travel down a mental road toward mechanism, which is like fatalism but with a sense of responsibility, and the question of choice.

Then I shut up, check the oven, and get back to playing “Half Life 2“, “Mass Effect“, or “Aquaria” until I’m creatively capable again. Most probably, I’m just depressing right now, the biggest clue to that being my ongoing headache and the suspect link I’ve been finding between inflammation and depression. I can say this, if you can’t control your own emotions you cannot control your own writing; one solution has to come before the other. I take the anti-inflammatory ibuprofen to resolve both at once, and hope for the best.

It may be my innate nature as a sort of diviner of any thread of information I can find, the impulse to be a real-life Sherlock Holmes, that leads me to these moments of paranoia and anxiety. However, these afflictions are a strange thing; they are never pleasant to bear, but when they are resolved they can lead to the most beautiful and intricate ideas I have ever had. Perhaps what I really need right now is a moment of stillness, and perhaps a little luck.

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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in State of the Moment


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