The things that hold us back

I’m pretty sure all the authors represented on the Mad Genius Club panel, and a great many of our readers too, have at least one element in our lives that’s a constant drag – something that holds us back from doing all we want to do, achieving all we want to achieve.  Sometimes it’s physical, sometimes mental, sometimes emotional, sometimes to do with the relationships in our lives or the society in which we live;  but whatever it (or they) may be, it’s something we have to fight constantly in order to get anywhere.

Sometimes the problem is very easy to identify.  I have no trouble with mine, that’s for sure!  Following my work-related injury in 2004, I ended up with a fused spine and a damaged sciatic nerve in my left leg.  Together they make it impossible for me to sleep more than three or four hours at a stretch before my back and leg ‘lock up’ very painfully.  As a result, I sleep a few hours at night, get up in the small hours of the morning (and write while the world is dark and everyone else is asleep), then sleep again for three to four hours during the afternoon.  It’s made for an awkward work and social life, but one adapts.  To add to the fun, my body decides once every ten days to two weeks that I really need 24 to 48 hours of severe pain, to remind me of how lucky I am at other times.  I’ve just come out of one of those spells.  No fun.  Creative thought and expression doesn’t do very well, in my experience, when one’s trying hard not to express how one’s feeling more profanely (and fluently) than would be appropriate in the presence of loved ones.

Other people have different problems.  I know one author (who shall remain nameless) whose creativity is semi-crippled by a fear – more of a terror, really – that he simply isn’t good enough, that all those who buy his books and congratulate him on them are really just trying to be nice, and that one of these days they’re going to lose patience with him, tell him to go to hell, and turn their backs on him.  It’s completely irrational, but it’s a fear that rules many of his waking moments, even after successfully publishing several books.  I’ve strongly advised him to see a psychiatrist and get a handle on this fear, but so far he’s refused.  “What if that bottles up my creative streak?  What if getting rid of the fear means getting rid of my ability to write?”  Again, irrational . . . but very real to him.

I suppose one could draw parallels with many other areas of life.  When I was still an active pastor, I recall a colleague who was beset with doubts about his faith.  He couldn’t ‘feel it’ any more.  Was he a hypocrite to just ‘go through the motions’ every Sunday before his congregation?  I told him, emphatically, that faith has nothing to do with feelings – if it did, our faith would fluctuate with our hormone levels!  Faith is a decision, one we make daily, just as love is a decision.  We all know from painful experience that sometimes our loved ones annoy the living daylights out of us . . . but that doesn’t stop us loving them.  We’ve made that choice.  We decided to love them, and we renew that decision every time an obstacle arises.  Faith (or the absence thereof) is the same thing.  I guess we could say that our desire to write is a feeling, but what makes us a writer, an author, is the decision to act on that desire.  Even if we’re not feeling creative, we sit down and write, because while one can edit a bad chapter into better shape, one can’t improve nothing at all!

I suppose the payoff comes when our readers surprise us by gaining some insight, some enlightenment, from something we wrote, that we didn’t intend at all when we wrote it.  That’s happened to me a couple of times, and I still get warm fuzzy feelings when I think about it.  Author Patrick Rothfuss recently experienced something like that.  In his Kingkiller Chronicles trilogy, he writes about the Edema Ruh:  travelers, storytellers, actors and actresses, the living folk memory of a nation.  You can read more about them here.

Mr. Rothfuss was surprised (one hopes pleasantly) earlier this year by some news from a completely different form of entertainment.

The band Nightwish has a new album coming out at the end of this month titled, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful.”

Track number 8 on the album? “Edema Ruh.”

Am I excited? Yeah. I’m a little excited.

I haven’t listened to much of their music yet, but I’m guessing a symphonic metal band that reads fantasy and pulls the name for its album from a Charles Darwin quote is going to be my kind of crazy….

So, his fictional fantasy became a source of musical inspiration. What’s even more interesting is that Nightwish’s album, ‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful‘, is inspired by the writings of Charles Darwin and the evolutionary (and anti-religious) views of Richard Dawkins.  If you like, the album is a sort of secular spirituality, reflecting on human existence as an accident of nature.  Being a man of faith, I suppose some would think I should be turned off by that, but I’m not.  I can enjoy the music and wait to find out which of us was right!

Here’s the track:  the lyrics are here if you need them.

So, we have our things that hold us back:  but if we overcome them, our dreams can take flight as words.  Who knows what they may then inspire?  For Patrick Rothfuss, they inspired artists in a completely different field to turn them into music, which I’m sure has inspired him to become even more creative.  Fun, isn’t it?

(Oh – and I’m sure the Nightwish song has helped Mr. Rothfuss’ sales as well.  I’d not read the Kingkiller Chronicles, but when I heard the song, I couldn’t help logging into and buying the first two books in the series.  I’d love to know how his sales are doing overall since the launch of the album.)


  1. You’re in for a treat. Rothfuss is amazing. I take care to read him kind of slowly, to savor the language. This is a guy who thinks hard about how words fit together.

  2. I think most of the things that hold us back are inside ourselves.

    At 21 I was timid, shy, over sensitive, and over cautious. At 61 I’m thick-skinned and daring. And still a work in progress. Next up, marketing!

  3. ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself’ is MOSTLY true. It’s rare for a bear to show up and eat you, but for a person consumed by fear, the bear is always present. It’s a hard problem to address with words and reason, because the part of our brain that fears is much closer to our spine than the part of our brain that thinks.
    Here’s what I wrote today, reflecting on 9/11, about something that held me back

    1. In that vein, one morning when all the minor issues just got to me, I prayed “I just want some good news today.” When I went to lunch, a white van drove by and on the back glass was the words “Here’s some good news.” with Psalms 86:5 below it. I had to laugh.

    2. “We’ve got nothin’ to fear but fear itself
      Not pain, not failure, not fatal tragedy
      Not the faulty units in this mad machinery
      Not the broken contacts in emotional chemistry

      With an iron fist in a velvet glove
      We are sheltered under the gun
      In the glory game on the power change
      Thy kingdom’s will be done

      And the things that we fear
      Are a weapon to be held against us

      He’s not afraid of your judgment
      He knows of horrors worse than your hell
      He’s a little bit afraid of dyin’
      But he’s a lot more afraid of your lyin’

  4. People with talent and drive may have “imposter syndrome”. Or in my case I compare myself to the top talents in my field, even though my friends say that I’m above average and likable. (My dog doesn’t care…)

    As for Rothfuss, the first book is delightful, the second is “meh” to me. (His writing is awesome, but the story telling is getting out of hand. The protagonist is becoming too much, much) So enjoy!

    Distractions hold me back. (I would love to relive life a number of times so I can follow all the paths. Although Ken Grimwood’s “Replay” suggests that multiple childhoods might be considered torture under some circumstances.)
    Just in the computer field alone there are hundreds of different specialties. Not to mention of other careers, people, countries, entertainment, and experiences. I feel sorry for the people like Notch, (of MineCraft fame), that have succeeded and have no idea have to enjoy the bounty…

    1. Rabbi Zusya: “In the World To Come they won’t ask me why I wasn’t like Moses. They will ask me why I wasn’t like Zusya.” (quoted in Martin Buber, “Tales of the Hasidim”)

  5. When I first heard the song, I heard it as “Idi Maru,” as if it were a Japanese ship. 🙂 Which goes to show that one’s ear can be tuned in odd ways.

  6. It’s also awesome when you’re a fan of a band and a writer and one (usually the band) pays homage to the other. That happened a lot with Iron Maiden (The Prisoner, Dune, Rhime of the Ancient Mariner, OSC’s Alvin Maker series, just to name a few) when I was a kid. Nightwish doesn’t do it for me, but it’s good to see them continuing the tradition.

      1. I’m woefully uneducated about Queen. Weird, that. I’m stoked to find out about “39”. Thanks!

        The only reference I could find about it was that it’s supposedly based on a Herman Hesse story – “The River”. I haven’t read that one, either. I’ve only read his novels.

  7. I think what holds me back the most these days are bad work habits. I’ve gotten into the habit of not working hard anymore, because in most of my contract jobs I usually get all my work done in a few hours, and then spend the rest of the day goofing off, surfing the web, while waiting for more work for me to do.

    And now that I have a job writing, where I can always sit down and just do more, I’m finding that I’m doing the same thing. Drives me nuts that I’ve gotten so used to waiting on everyone else, that I am taking those breaks still, even though there is nobody else anymore! 😦

    1. It sounds too much like excuses and whining even when I say that my bad work habits hold me back, which ought to sound like taking responsibility, right? I’ve never been good at managing my own time. Taking care of kids made it even worse because everything is reaction rather than action. So that exactly… I sit and wait for the next thing that I HAVE to do.

      Going to school and working outside of the home on someone else’s schedule has helped a little bit. I just need to translate it into structure and rules when I sit down in front of the computer 3 hours ago with every intention to start slaying a demon that’s digesting furries… Uff da.

  8. Thanks, Mr. Grant. Not just for the post (which was neat) but I finally got ’round to reading your Take the Star Road, and …. wow! I’ve bought the first four, but have to stop reading (work.. phooey) I really love these books.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I posted a tongue-in-cheek 1 star review for book 1 on amazon. You really do seem to be shaping up to be the Dick Francis of SF

    1. DON”T DO THAT!!!
      Fer shure, write the tongue in cheek review, but don’t one-star it. People look at that stuff. I’ve written lots of tongue in cheek reviews, but never jacked with stars.

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