Unbeknownst to me a goblin had taken up residence in my attic. We will call this goblin Shiny, though his name is unknowable and hardwired into the universe. Scientists in Alpine labs have begun teasing out the specifics of creatures like Shiny but we're not there yet. Philosophers all through the ages have explored the shape of the beast without managing to truly see it. We don't have the beginning of a picture.
Shiny has an interest in my productivity, but it isn't his main focus. That's all emotional; his bread and butter are my obsession and angst. His fine wine is the juxtaposition of my love and loathing for this thing I do, and it is a heady bouquet for the little pest.
Anyway, off I went to continue preparations for the release of book 4 of Isaac's Story (and still no Isaac in sight), sure of my contention that I do this for the lulz and confident that simply having the paperback on my shelf would be enough, no matter if anyone else bothered to spend their precious time on it. I had a plan, with steps and checks and communiques to send.
Shiny saw an opportunity to season his meal and pounced. Check this out, he said, whispering from above. This is the coolest thing.
It was, in that moment. Fallout 4 is a very cool game and one enjoyed a lot, to the exclusion of all else. It's a giant world packed with things to do. New icons appear with the exact regularity needed to keep me hitting the digital road and exploring, sacrificing sleep and productivity for bottle caps (the in game currency).
My time with Fallout 4 came to an end and I made a move back to dealing with The Line. I had a plan, with steps and checks and communiques to send.
You need to think about the marketing on this title a little more, Shiny said as he scampered carelessly around my attic. You haven't managed to do enough in the past, and this book is so very good. Spend a bit more time.
Well that just made sense. The Line is a very good book (he says with no bias), and I'd hate to see it disappear without a trace. Perhaps I need to find new levers to pull in order to really get this thing off the ground.
You're doing what's best for the work. Spend a little time thinking about it. Oh, and while you're thinking, check this out.
I started a new world in Minecraft. For anyone who hasn't played this ludicrous game just know that it has limitless possibilities. I've played it off and on for years but stopped cold when I started publishing, and for good reason. It is the ultimate time suck for me, more so even than Sim City (the old ones, not the atrocious new one). I can happily explore my randomly generated world for days, searching for diamond in all the wrong places, fleeing the creatures of the night, and building magnificent structures atop the subjugated lands of my fallen foes.
You should start thinking about the next project, Shiny says when he sees me winding down my time in the game. Stand alone near-future science fiction thrillers aren't really paying off, you know. He points at my ideas folder. There's a straight thriller about corporate espionage that looks intriguing, and that urban fantasy is the shit.
He had a point, and it wouldn't take long to write up an outline and see if the thing would fly. I put aside The Line and knocked some ideas out, rubbing this bad guy against that world element to see if there were sparks. For me the generation of a world is as random as Minecraft at first, jagged cliffs and mysterious ocean depths breaking up the monotony of the plains, all of it a beautiful road to nowhere. But if I stick with it I can usually carve out some piece of civilization in the mess, some place to call my own.
Now write it, just a little. The Line isn't going anywhere, and besides; it isn't like anyone is going to read it. That's just for you, and this new thing will be so good. So sellable.
Well that just makes sense, so off I go. The reality that all I have left to do on The Line is follow the plan, complete the checks, and send out the communiques, escapes me. Or, rather, I escape the reality, because Shiny has a point, doesn't he: Nobody is going to read it anyway, and I really would like to create something that takes off. Who wouldn't?
The project I pick, after all the long thinking sessions, is the urban fantasy. It goes well and I have so much fun with it, the kind of fun I never get from the business side of this business. It's like starting a new relationship (to use a tired cliche), all excitement and discovery with none of the boring day to day. No taking out the trash, all dirty sex in weird places.
I know I should send out follow-up emails to people who've expressed an interest in The Line, and I will, at some point. It's just so tedious compared to all this lovely new fiction. Shiny has it right, nobody wants The Line but me, and if all I'm doing is pleasing myself then the urban fantasy is doing that just fine.
Shiny the goblin is an asshole. The Line is great and it needs to be out there. I know these things, but for a time it doesn't seem to matter. I'm wrapped up in a new world, exploring new possibilities divorced from the reality of my flagging sales and tiresome marketing. I am, I think to myself as another month goes by, doing what I should be doing.
You should start looking at how to market the new work, Shiny says at the perfect time. He knows how to prepare his cuisine, when to allow it time to marinate and when to turn up the heat. You don't want to mess this up by only focusing on the writing, do you?
In the moment (the stupid stupid moment), he's right. I should put some thought toward covers and editing, discoverability and reach. I break off the writing I've been so enjoying and get distracted with putting together the plans, checks and communiques for the new work. The Line is a tickle in the back of my head, nothing more. Over the next month the urban fantasy takes up residence there as well, sliding away from the center of my world.
Star Wars, is all Shiny has to say to drag me away from what I'm doing. I watch the movie and think about it and speculate and now it's Christmas and I realize I haven't done anything productive in weeks. And Shiny feeds on that realization for days.
Family and noise and colored lights and food. Presents given and received with smiles. All good stuff, and it's fair to be distracted from productivity by this time of year. It's something you're meant to do. Leave all the things you were working on and dedicate time to being a normal person.
Then I let that drag on for a bit too, and now Shiny doesn't have to speak to me anymore because I'm doing it myself. I've internalized the goblin's words and I'm not doing anything except watching funny videos on YouTube and killing time until...
Until what, you dumbass?
Shiny rises from his fat torpor. Until...something something. You know, you get inspiration and stuff.
I'm very susceptible to Shiny's tactics, comfortable with leaving things as they are. I have a comfortable life, I don't NEED to do this. That's why I say I do this for the lulz, because if I have to come up with a legit, adult reason to do it I won't be able to. I'd make more money selling burgers. Hell, I'd make more money begging outside the burger place.
I get an email from someone who has read an advance copy of The Line and wants to know when it'll be out. They are confused because they know it was finished an age ago. I start coming up with an excuse, some sequence of words that'll get me out of having to deal with it for now. I almost go with the flow, go back to my funny videos and games and pottering around with things that I'll regret the next day. I almost keep the supply of negative emotion and lost time flowing to the little goblin that lives in my attic. Almost.
I reply to the email and say it'll be up in a week. I offer that person a signed copy of the paperback when it comes out, but until this post I don't tell them why.
I'm not apologizing for missing my deadline, or for delaying the next entry of my stunning prose from setting the world on fire. I'm thanking this person for giving me the smallest of pushes in the right direction.
I don't do this for the money (though that would be nice), or for the lulz (though if that could be true my life would be easier). No, I do this because I've always wanted to see my creations on the shelf. I've always wanted to share the worlds in my head with others, not because I want fame and fortune but because I can't think of anything cooler than simply having these stories out in the world. I want them to be read and enjoyed. Shiny can play on my insecurities and feed on the angst that floods me when I don't see something take off, but he can't kill the dream itself. It's the source of his power and (hopefully) his Achilles heel.
Shiny is well fed and his arguments aren't what they were, back when he was lean and hungry. The web he weaves over my aspirations and dreams is thin and intangible, if only for now.
I can fight him and his attractive words, at least until his stomach begins to grumble.
I have plans to execute, checks to complete, and communiques to send. You should go read a book.