Squeezing the Tennis Ball

I Have No Words

Before anything else, I’d like to start this post with a declaration: I’ve barely written anything aimed for publication in months, and that’s okay. Before COVID, and before the dog blew the tendons in my arm and elbow (still not great, but getting better, and I’ve gotten to the point where I can type for longer periods of time now), I was more-or-less ready with “Village Fool,” a novelette I’d intended to launch on April Fool’s Day, which takes place on—wait for it—April Fool’s Day. It’s a wee story about Owen and Toma (who you may have briefly met in “Faux Ho Ho”), and I was in the last stretches and then…

Well. Dog. Arm. COVID.

Over the last couple of weeks, as my arm started to finally get to a decent state, I re-opened files and… white noise. I’d re-read what I wrote, and I liked it, but then I’d get to the parts where I had to fix or polish or finish and… white noise. So I’d pick up my tennis ball again, and try not to worry about it.

(Have I mentioned how much I hate squeezing a tennis ball? Because oh wow does it turn out I hate to squeeze a tennis ball, but that’s one of my exercises to try and fix the tendons around my elbow, so, squeeze-squeeze-squeeze. Even better is when the dog notices I’m squeezing a tennis ball, because then he wants the tennis ball, and I have to play keep-away with a fully grown husky whilst squeezing the bloody tennis ball. But I digress.)

One of the things I try to champion in my public life as a writer is to be clear that sometimes the words don’t work, because I think we far more often see the messages of “you have to write every day!” or “writers write!” and that’s honestly not true for everyone, and even more, I think it can destroy writers who don’t write that way, but think they have to. I don’t write that way, and I’ve more-or-less made peace with it, but this stretch of nothing has been really, really long, and I’m ready for it to be done.

So what do I do about it? What can I do about it?

My answer to that (I want to be clear this is my answer to that, for me, but maybe it’ll also work for someone else) is to aim myself in two different directions at once.

Engage!

Direction the first is to find the fun in writing, and this time, that’s coming from fan-fiction. I’ve been working on a piece of fan-fic, picking it up when I feel like I’ll get some flow, but stopping the moment I hit any sort of wall. I want to remind myself that writing can indeed be fun. No one might ever see it (well, except it’s a Star Trek Voyager fan-fic based on the Year of Hell episodes and my author friend Jeffrey is a huge Voyager fan and I’ll totally let him see it when it’s done), but it’s doing the job I wanted it to do: be fun.

In this year of 2020, fun has been in pretty short supply, no?

So. Yeah. I’m writing a fan-fic and somehow it’s already broken 10k over the last couple of months and who knew? Then again, I’ve got Lyndsay Ballard and Ayala and Gerron and the Delta Quadrant, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised I’m having fun.

Visualize Motivation

Witch Trio

Anders, Curtis, and Luc, looking fantastic, courtesy of Micah. Check him out!

The second direction was something that came out of royalties, and watching convention after convention shutter or transition online because of COVID. This is totally the responsible, correct thing to do and I’m glad they’re doing it, but I also know what this does to artists and sellers and so I looked at my royalties and decided I wanted to buy some art of the fellas from Triad Blood and Triad Soul, which is the next novel-project I need to finish.

I reached out to an artist I’ve been following and enjoying for a while on Twitter, Micah (that’s his Twitter link, but you can also check him out on Patreon) and his commissions were open and we chatted back and forth, and it was so wonderful to get my head back into Anders, Curtis, and Luc. And as the initial sketch and rough draft dropped into my DMs, I found myself re-opening the Triad Magic file and not having white noise greet me.

The final image? Well, you can see it right there and I just freaking love it. Anders and his oddly-white hellfire (and hello V-neck), Curtis doing some air magic (that T-shirt design was 100% Micah, by the way, I just described Curtis’s penchant for graphic T’s that were nerdy and/or queer), and of course Luc, looking all slick but with a button or two undone because he’s loosened up a smidge in the last two novels.

Anyway. Check out Micah. His commissions are currently open, and he’s fantastic to work with, and if—like me—you’re feeling stymied, maybe some artwork is worth a shot. The funny thing is, images and art have always inspired me to write (I mean, half the flash fiction on this blog was inspired by photo prompts), so I shouldn’t have been surprised at the balm effect of Micah’s drawing of the boys, but I was. 2020, man. It’s the worst.

Cover Me

Speaking of art, having cover art often gives me the last push to really polish a piece (I got amazing cover art for “Village Fool” from Inkspiral that it’s killing me not to share, but my arm, etcetera, so the novelette isn’t done). Getting cover art makes a project feel real in a concrete way that never fails to excite me. And in once case, Of Echoes Born, (which was another Inkspiral cover, by the way) it made me go back and change major parts of the text of two stories because the image was just so perfect for the book it inspired a different angle entirely.

That’s right, you heard me: the hows of Ian Simon’s precognitive/psychometic abilities were 100% re-written after getting the cover design.

So, if you’re like me, and feeling stuck and the words aren’t flowing, might I humbly suggest trying three things.

Thing the first: If you can, try some writing for fun. Zero pressure. For the freaking hell of it.

Thing the second: Art motivates me. Maybe it can motivate you. Regardless, it’s awesome having art of characters I’ve written, and hey, kicking some bucks to artists feeling the crunch of zero convention traffic is also a big plus.

But wait, I only talked about two things, didn’t I? How come now I’m saying three?

Well, here’s thing the third: If this advice—or any advice—doesn’t work for you? That’s fine. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re a writer even when you’re not typing words onto a screen or scribbling them into a journal. In my experience, a great deal of the mind-work of writing has nothing to do with the keyboard. Sometimes, the thinking-about stuff is where it’s at.

It’s like squeezing a tennis ball when the husky wants it. You’ll figure it out.

4 thoughts on “Squeezing the Tennis Ball

  1. Prioritize fun. 🙂 That’s how I wound up writing Exit Scenario; I wanted to do something that was just plain enjoyable for me. I need to do more writing like that, period.

    Liked by 1 person

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