On Not Creating

The day’s work landed me in my screenshots folder. Since the work of the day was one that triggered my avoidance circuits, I ended up looking through the entire folder to see all the things I’d decided to screenshot over the past four years or so. I was cleaning out mostly boring detritus when I came across a set of tweets from Howard that I grabbed in 2017. He was talking about supporting me in the creative work that I want to do. It was one of those threads where Howard was saying things out loud to help cement them in his own brain. (This thread for the curious.) During 2017 my time was completely consumed by Planet Mercenary. It was heavily creative work which landed my name on the cover of the book. I’m immensely proud of what I did. That book is mine. It would not exist without my force of will. Yet like everything else, there was an opportunity cost. I suspect that Howard’s thread was prompted by a conversation between us about the things I was giving up to make Planet Mercenary happen. The outcome of the conversation seems to have been that once Planet Mercenary was launched, we needed to make more time for Projects Sandra Wants To Do rather than Projects Sandra Gets Assigned to From Need and Then Makes Into Her Own.

I’m now three years post-Planet Mercenary, and the first thing that set of tweets did was make me sad about all the stuff I meant to do, but haven’t. Howard making space for me to do projects accomplishes nothing if I don’t claim the space. If I end up cleaning out my screenshots folder instead of writing the fiction I say I want to write. I’ve seen all the memes and reminders going around that creatives should be gentle with themselves if they’re unable to create in these unprecedented times, but I’m not sure I can claim that excuse since I was failing to create even before times earned the appellation “unprecedented.” (Aside: These times aren’t actually unprecedented. Basic historical analysis says the current pandemic and social behavior maps very parallel to what happened in 1918. It is just that no one has living memory of how this goes. Oh, and we’ve lost social memory of how to handle infectious diseases since the vast majority of adults don’t remember when polio, measles, or whooping cough were common.)

Last month I delved into my creative self doubt during my monthly newsletter. I came away from that exploration feeling calm and resolved. In less than 30 days, I lost both the calmness and the resolve somewhere. I’m right back where I was, avoiding writing by doomscrolling or by cleaning out my screenshots folder. I’d say it is time for me to re-read Around the Writer’s Block by Rosane Bane, except I’m moving so slowly through Story Genius by Lisa Cron that I’m not sure giving myself more homework would help. At some point writer homework becomes another avoidance tactic. The core of it is that I have to believe in myself enough that I claim space and put in the hard work to do the creative things. I wish that were easier. I wish I didn’t fail at it so often. But I can’t go back and claim any of the time I spent otherwise in the past three years or in the past 30 days. All I can do is choose how I spend today. Spending it on regret is the opposite of helpful. Time to move forward instead.