I’m No Superman

I’m not, and I’ll get to that. At Caer Pascoe, we’re a week into the transition of the Return of Mrs. Dave. I think her timezone shift is assisting, as she gets really tired not long after dinner. So we’ve been getting the littles down earlier, and ourselves to sleep earlier, and so I’m managing to not stay up stupid late doing nothing because the house is finally quiet. And that’s helping. It means I have enough emotional reserve to take that half a breath when the children are shrieking at each other. It means I can remind myself there’s another adult in the house, and I can keep cooking. It means the floors are swept and the dishes get done, and laundry gets folded. It’s kinda surreal, honestly.

I’m planning on a writing weekend around my birthday, early next month, and hope to knock out the remainder of Scrap Star over a few days of (hopefully) lousy weather and ignoring the universe. After that, there’s LTUE toward which to look, and the opportunities and festivities associated with that. But enough! On to the writing!

I started this once, already, but it sort of augured in. There were flames. But, y’know, any wreck you can walk away from…

Something toward which I’ve been groping, here. My writing career needs better organization. I suspect most of us could say that about a great many things. My life, my closet, my gaming stuff, my computer desktop, etc. A huge part of that is simply making a schedule. Which would be great, but then what do I do when I miss my self-imposed deadlines? Besides flagellate my self mercilessly, I mean.

Well, I could start by setting deadlines I *can’t possibly* miss. Things like, “I’ll write a page a day. 250 words: no more; no less.” Buuuuuuut, I think I need to set my bar higher. Hyperbole aside, I know I do, and I’ll tell you why. We need challenge. Humans don’t grow except through adversity. Games on easy mode are boring. We hate one-sided contests of any kind, whether we’re participating, or simply observing. One of the most exhilarating experiences is engaging in a close contest. Slightly greater is winning, which is why we do it. NaNoWriMo suggests engaging in word wars, in which you compete with a fellow NaNite to write the most words in a given amount of time (getting a little pedant, I might suggest word skirmish might be more appropriate for anything less than a day, with a full day being a battle, and the whole month being the war. But nobody asked me.) and these can be a lot of fun. When I’ve participated, I found tracking my wordcount against my friends’ for the whole day to be more effective than the briefer skirmishes, but I’m weird.

So, setting the bar high is useful, both to grow as a human and as a writer. But then comes the downside: the inevitability of failure when you get sufficiently ambitious. The trick seems to be divorcing the emotional impact of missing the mark from the concept of failure. Simple, right? Just stop feeling bad when you miss a deadline. (Wow, I’m glad I figured that out. It’s all smooth sailing, from here on out! Right? Right? Anybody? Nobody?) Simple, maybe. But not easy. Not by a long stretch.

I’m not a shrink. I don’t even play one on TV, though I know a couple. I’m not even trying to give medical advice. (Writing advice? Well, that’s kinda what we do, here at the MGC.) But, I’m aware there are cognitive techniques to make certain behaviors more likely, or less likely. To break bad habits, and build good ones. I’ve talked about the writer’s self-talk here, before. I’ve been making it a habit to avoid self-deprecating humor, which, while it bears the seeming of humility, is really more about beating on oneself. I don’t need to do that; neither do you. Life is going to hurt us enough without us piling on.

There are going to be opportunities. I’m trying to talk an obviously depressed buddy into lowering his standards (when all else fails, lower your standards. Thanks, Pop Dave!) when it comes to training his brain to appreciate success. Give yourself a bit of a cheer for successful adulting. Get a load of laundry done, and say an attaboy. Out loud, if you can. Strike the Superman Pose (feet apart, hands on hips, spine erect, shoulders back, head up, smile) for a good twenty seconds. It helps, as odd as it seems. Keep a set of pictures or memes on a device, and when you do something that qualifies as a success, however minor, pull one out. Only memes that make you laugh, mind. The point is to use tools to make your brain release happy chems, so you get used to it. Start doing it when you finish a page, or when you can mark off a day on the calendar as “I wrote, today.” Keep a log. Mom Dave keeps the Bullet Journal (still trying to get there, Mom) and swears by it. And here’s the kicker: when you have the inevitably bad day or missed deadline, pull out the journal and take a scan through it to see all your good days.

As much as I may complain about being ambushed by worlds, the day last week when I realized I had a fully-fleshed and rough-plotted trilogy out of a rough sketch of a D&D dungeon was a good freakin’ day. Note those days for future use. This is your ammunition in the fight against your brain’s chemical warfare!

Got a little carried away, there. But the point stands: set ambitious goals so you have a challenge to struggle toward, and work to improve your mental and emotional stability so inevitable failure becomes simply one more diagnostic tool.


  1. There is a major paradox related to this. It is to expect perfection, at the same time assume no success at all, both at the same time.

    My retirement job requires contacting doctors, and getting them to cooperate. If you assume success will happen, you fail more than half the time, with associated depression. If you assume failure always occurs, when cooperation actually happens, you are happy it actually worked. You appreciate cooperation.

    But if I assume failure, what motivates doing anything? If success is assumed, there will be more success, but more depression when certain failure occurs. So the paradox: Assume both success and failure will happen. Embrace both at the same time. Be aware of what you are not doing, as much as what you do.

    When you write, it can always be better, so never stop editing. Yet you must finish, knowing you have failed to write perfectly.

    So practice paradox as you wrote.

    1. The model for a writer is the snail: very hard and impervious, and very soft and sensitive. At the same time.

  2. Be sure and add in the “I survived the double Loci of Chaos!” award. Because some days (BTDT) that’s a big win. Kids. If we’d _really_ understood what we were letting ourselves in for . . . the human race would have gone extinct a thousand years ago.

    1. Bed made, cat fed, cat box tidied, finished day without throwing anything (including a tantrum). Some days those are major successes.

  3. 250 words worked splendidly for me as a lower bound because it took me that long to warm up. If I couldn’t write after that, something was seriously wrong.

  4. I have to agree with Jordan Peterson on one point.
    Every single day, make your bed.
    That way, you can say you accomplished one thing with your day.
    (This is especially useful for me. Having had multiple major depressive episodes in my life, the little things sometimes count for a lot. If my bed is made, then I have gotten out of bed. Also, if the bed is made, then it counteracts the urge to get back into it and pull the covers up over my head and never get out.)
    Even on bad-good days, which are different from bad-bad days, it helps. On days when my to-do list is longer at 4 PM than it was at 7 AM, I can at least pat myself on the back because my bed is made.
    I think it’s similar to knowing where your towel is 🙂

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