In which I am almost, but not entirely, like Ultra Boy

It’s very important that I write something. Over the winter break, I picked up a bunch of games off Steam – Batman: Arkham Asylum, L.A. Noire, Grand Theft Auto IV, Bastion, The Binding of Isaac – they call to me. They want to help me eat up vast amounts of time without really realizing it. They want to sap away my precious intellectual juices in a haze of car crashes and Batarangs.

On the other hand, I stole a SWAT truck!

As much fun as that sounds, I do have work to do. Not school work, though that wouldn’t be a bad idea. I have my own work to do – writing.

Last year, I got really lazy with writing book reviews, which isn’t really a sound strategy when you’re the sole writer for an internationally-known book review podcast. [1] With every week that I do the show, my backlist of reviews diminishes by one, and sooner or later I’ll be at a point where I have to actually write one review a week just to catch up. That’ll be the point where I’ll have to either end the podcast or put it on a hiatus, because there’s no way I can pull that off for very long.

So, one of my resolutions for this year is to get back in the saddle of review-writing, and make sure I always have plenty of reviews to choose from each week. As of this writing, I have a backlist of 48 reviews. That’s great. Unfortunately, half of them are either Wheel of Time reviews or Discworld. So I need to get moving on this and try to put some variety back in the stacks. I have a lot of old, pre-podcast reviews that I can beef up, but a lot of those are for books I no longer own. That means doing a bit of research to remember what they were about, to say nothing of cursing out Past Chris for not writing more thoroughly.

The other work I have to do, of course, is writing fiction. I’m still plugging along on my fic-a-day work, and have decided that in January I will use only all-new characters. That’s not as hard as it sounds, but after seven months it does seem to take a little more energy every day just to get started on writing. I know I have to do it, but I find other things to do, and that’s never a good sign. It also brings me to the title of this post.

His Ultra-Smooth is always on, though. Another difference between him and me.

In case you’re not familiar with him, Ultra Boy is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, a group that battles interstellar menaces in the far future of the DC Universe. Ultra Boy is a character with pretty run-of-the-mill powers – super-speed, invulnerability, great strength, and so on – but with one rather strange caveat: he can only use one of his powers at a time.

The idea is that his body is full of some kind of “ultra-energy” that can allow him to do amazing things, but he has to consciously will it to do what he wants. And there’s not really enough of it to go around. So, he can be really fast, but not inhumanly strong, or he can be super-strong and yet vulnerable to an enemy’s weapons. It’s an interesting twist, and part of what makes him more than just Superboy with some stubble.

Now while I cannot, as of this writing, fly or shoot lasers out of my eyes, I do feel a kind of kinship with Ultra Boy. I have creative energy that I can do pretty good things with. I’m not superheroic or anything, but I’m certainly not bad. The trouble is that I can only use it for one creative outlet at a time. So if I’m writing, it means that I’m not drawing or doing photography. If I start getting more caught up in photography, then the writing will stop. If I feel the drawing itch kick in, then that’ll be it for the photography, and so on.

I hear Fitzgerald did this all the time.

The thing is, I don’t really have a lot of control over when my creative outlet is going to switch from one thing to another, or if it’ll just stop altogether – which has happened before. So when I get to a point like where I am today, where I just want to switch off my brain and hijack cars all night, I start to worry that this is the first sign of The Switch. I really want to continue with writing, and I have no plans to stop doing the podcast. But perhaps my subconscious has other things in mind for me.

The obvious solution, of course, is to soldier on. To write something, even if it’s half-assed and half-hearted, just so I can say, “Well, I did it.” But at the same time, I don’t want it to become a chore. I don’t want it to become just one more damn thing I have to do every day. I’m not making money off the podcast or the fiction, so the main reason I do it, really, is for my own enjoyment. And if I don’t enjoy it, then what’s the point?

Anyway, all that is neither here nor there. I’ll keep on keeping on, and monitoring myself to see what’s keeping me on track and what’s trying to nudge me off it. Self-knowledge is a good thing, if a little tricky at times.

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[1] There are people in other countries who listen to it. So I’m just being accurate.

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And then the killer raised the knife and aw, to heck with it….

I’m working on an entry for an upcoming Worth1000 contest – Everyday Instructions – and I found that about three hundred words into what I was writing, I just kind of… stopped. I still think the idea works, but what I was doing with it just kinda bored the hell out of me. I was working on it prior to a meeting, and – get this – I didn’t think about it once during the meeting itself.

I know, right?

So from this, I have devised a Creative Rule: if what you’re doing bores you, then do it a different way.

Some ideas are harder to work out than others, no matter how easy they may seem at the time, and it’s easy to go at them in the wrong way. If you’re lucky, or if you’ve been doing this kind of thing long enough, your subconscious will give you a little nudge to tell you that you need to get the map out of the glove compartment, or at least ask the guy at the next gas station. Metaphorically speaking. Basically that nudge will tell you that what you’re doing just isn’t doing it for you, and you need to do something else.

Just as recognizing that nudge isn’t easy, what’s even harder is figuring out what it is you have to do next. Do you make a few tiny tweaks and hope they do the trick? Do you scrap everything and start at the beginning? Scrap the project entirely? Shave your head and go live in a mountain temple somewhere and change your name to something like Three Bulging Oxen? That’s something you have to figure out for yourself, and it can be an unpleasant process of trial and error. You might waste time on an idea that’s just never going to work for you, banging your head against the wall for what seems like forever. Or you might give up on an idea only to have a flash of inspiration months – even years – later, and lament that you’ve lost so much time that you could have spent working.

Sooner or later, all you can do is trust your creative instincts and hope for the best.

Of course, it helps if what you’re doing is for your benefit only. The Worth1000 contests are entirely for my own entertainment [1], as are the writing blog and the review podcast. No one’s paying me to do them, and the only person who is going to punish me for missing a deadline is me. I’ve set the rules for each project, which means that I can change them, if I want to or need to. Because as much as I love my legion [2] of adoring fans, the only person who can decide whether I write every night or record every week is me. That means that I’m free to make these kinds of creative changes if things start to get stale.

To their credit, though, the chair really is comfy.

It’s different if you’re at work, of course. I can’t just upend my EFL curriculum at school if I get bored with it, because all the students are supposed to cover the same material at the same time. If word gets out that Mr. Gladis’ classes are easier/harder/radically different from what other kids are doing, then I’ll get called up before the Grand Council of English Teachers and beaten with a rod until I repent, signing my confession with ink made of my own blood and tears.

At least that’s what I think will happen. I have no evidence that it won’t.

Anyway, it was a good thought to have, and a good one to keep in mind. I am a slave to my Pride sometimes [3], which makes changing a decision rather difficult. Giving myself permission to alter the deal – or alter it further, if necessary – is something I need to get more practice doing.

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[1] Although there is a bit of ego tied into it by now: I’ve entered into seven writing contests so far, and I’ve placed in the top three in all of them. To miss one – or to fail at getting in the top three – is becoming less and less acceptable.

[2] Note: May not actually be a legion.

[3] All the time.