Write-a-thon weeks 2-4

The short of it: I didn’t write any blog posts because I was too busy actually writing. So, in the interest of remaining entertaining, I am posting an essay that I started long, long ago, and somehow lost the first half of. This essay is about the relationship between writing-writing, Goth House, and my submitaphobia.

But I was waiting for something, and in my head I told myself I was waiting for me to write something that didn’t suck, but that’s probably a lie.

When I graduated from college, my thinking was, hey, I’m finally out of school, I don’t have homework, I can just go home from my stupid job that I hate and write fiction and stuff and then I’ll start submitting. Finally. But I wasn’t writing much. I didn’t seem to have a lot of ideas. And I was still at the phase where I thought, you get an idea, then you write it down. So I thought I had writer’s block. Maybe I even did. I do know that I was deeply unhappy for a lot of reasons.

That’s when I started cartooning. I was drawing the genesis of what became Goth House. Cartooning seemed to bypass whatever it was that felt like writer’s block, maybe because I could doodle if I didn’t have any real ideas? I still don’t know.

Over the next bunch of years, I drew Goth House and I wrote fiction, neither one in a particularly disciplined fashion. Goth House appeared in Throwrug and in self-published collections. The fiction — I don’t know, every once in a while I would write a short story that I didn’t hate, send it out a couple of places, fail to get it published, get discouraged, and give up.

Yeah, I gave up really easily. I think it’s that after a couple of rejections (or, let’s be honest, even one rejection) I would stop believing in the story. I would decide that it was an inherently bad story and probably didn’t deserve to be published.

I actually finished a novel. It took about three years. Several people read it and didn’t hate it. So I figured, I’m on the road now, baby! I’m making it happen!

You can probably guess the rest. A couple of rejections and…

Moving right along to 2001 and the Philadelphia Worldcon — during it, somehow I had this magic lightbulb go on in my head that told me I needed to go to Clarion West. I got laid off in late 2001, so applying for the 2002 workshop seemed like perfect timing, like the universe was just falling into place.

But in 2002 I didn’t get in. The universe clearly had it in for me.

For the first half of 2002 I was unemployed, and started doing a lot more work on Goth House. That was when I started the website. I was using gothhouse.org to work on web design and programming techniques, as well as computer art techniques. That was also when I wrote my first story that GOT PUBLISHED SOMEWHERE YAY, largely because Paul, as he puts it, stole it from me and sent it off to Talebones.

I’m on the road now, baby! I’m making it happen!

I was writing more short stories I didn’t hate. (And failing to send most of them anywhere.) But I wasn’t getting anywhere with a follow-up novel. It seemed like I could advance any idea to about 40,000 words and then hit a brick wall. I was starting to feel like the first novel was a trick that I didn’t understand and couldn’t repeat, like hitting a bullseye the first time you throw a dart, then all your other throws go into the ceiling or land in the beer.

I applied for Clarion West again a couple of times. In 2006, I wrote and drew what was, in my opinion, the best combination of Goth House story and artwork to date: Percival and the Brain. Then I got to attend Clarion West (at the last possible minute, which is an interesting story in its own right, to be told here eventually). While I was there, I discovered a curious thing. I had all this unstructured time, and anticipated spending at least some of it cartooning. Drawing about my experiences and so on. But I didn’t.

I discovered that the part of my brain that invents cartoons is mostly the same part of my brain that invents stories.

I guess it shouldn’t have been shocking — cartoons are a narrative visual art, after all. And didn’t I originally start cartooning in order to cope with writer’s block? But I was still surprised by it. It wasn’t a time issue, it was a brainspace issue. In the years since, that has remained true. The more time I spend writing fiction — the more dedicated work I put into it — the less cartooning I get done.

I tried to keep up with the general plan I had for where the Goth House story was going, but I didn’t like any of my artwork and couldn’t seem to get the story to flow visually. My cartooning muse seemed to have deserted me. When I got a new day job, the website really went into a decline.

It would be nice to report that I swapped one muse for another, and maybe I did in a way — I was writing more stories I didn’t hate, and managed to complete a second novel. But I still wasn’t sending out my stuff. I used to think the problem was that I didn’t like my stories, but as I liked my stories more and still wasn’t submitting, I knew that wasn’t the problem. I thought the problem was that I didn’t quite know what to do — where to send it, how that whole publishing thing worked. But as I knew more writers and editors, and had a better grasp of the process, and still wasn’t submitting, I knew that wasn’t the problem.

At some point, I realized the problem was me — my own whacked-out emotional state. I have submitaphobia. I mean, an actual phobia, where I get all heart-racing and sweaty-palm stressed out about the very thought of sending something out. I’m trying to get over it, but it’s hard. Most advice to writers about overcoming submitaphobia boils down to “don’t have it, because it’s stupid.”

Thus ends the original essay. Anyway, on the good news front, I have some insight into the fear, which will be dissected in a future post. I have been considering how to revive the Goth House series, if only to finish out the story already planned. So far, I’m working with the idea of doing a much higher text-to-picture ratio, like The Christmas Truce or Alex in Punditland. Anyway, we’ll see what happens.