Extremely Bad Advice – Ex-Lover Exchange

DEAR SJ: My ex just responded after a month of ghosting me. The only thing in the message was “I’m sorry”. What the hell do I do?

— Lonely Larry

Vintage inscription made by old typewriter, im sorry

Dear Lonely Loser:

Very simple. You may respond in one of two ways.

First option, which is What I (and 11 out of 10 psychotherapists) Recommend, is this: absolutely nothing. Why should you? Were you waiting for an apology? If so, you didn’t get it.

What you got was a passive-aggressive manipulation tactic to get you to respond with For what? Thereby re-engaging with the enemy, allowing her to draw you in to her web once more. And, like the trapdoor spider, you won’t know what’s hit you until you’re back in her clutches and unable to find your way to freedom unless someone else re-spiked your Kool-Aid with the antidote to the poison she’ll be feeding you about how she made a mistake and you two were meant to be together.

Frankly, shit like this doesn’t happen unless she wants something from you. If you’ve been “ghosted”, that means you’ve been initiating contact with her without receiving expected responses during that whole time. That doesn’t happen between people who respect one another. For one, if she respected you, she would have responded. And for two, if you respected you, you wouldn’t have kept reaching out to her during this ghosting period. You would have taken the hint after the first message went unreplied and stopped, and then when she replied with “I’m sorry,” you could have dropped the New phone, who dis? meme and we’d all have a belly laugh.

Also, if you were waiting for an apology, why? If she’s your ex-girlfriend, then that’s in the past. You don’t want to get with her. You and she had your time together, and now it’s time for both of you to move forward.

Basically, there’s a great line that says, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

Read the rest on Patreon

What I Published in 2022

In another forum, there was a question of “What did you publish in 2022?” I counted up a bunch of work there, so in the interest of plagiarizing myself, as everyone should for enhancing efficiency, here you go!

BOOK (Humor / Satire)

Everything Is Your Fault! The best of Extremely Bad Advice, volume 1 (35k words)

This is the best of the first 16 months or so of my satirical “bad” advice column. See below.


Extremely Bad Advice

Published 59 different articles (1,000 – 1,500 words each)

Stephan James | creating bad advice, erotic fiction, short stories, and book reviews

Titles such as:

Cheaters Gonna Cheat

Auto-Obsessed

Doggie Depression

Divorce Do-Over


Essays

Several (8 or 9) related to personal growth or human development (1,500 – 2,500 words each), including:

Things You Didn’t Know You’d Learn Before Becoming a Father (perhaps my favorite stand-alone piece of the year)

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

To Get What You Want, You Have to Stop Wanting (most-liked post of the year)

The Problem Is Not the Problem

I’m a Believer


Review / Critique

Books and movies; 1,500 – 2,000 words each:

You Are a Badass

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Top Gun: Maverick is Terrible; and the complement: I’m Ecstatic It Exists

(FYI, Top Gun: Maverick is Terrible is my most-viewed and most-commented post of the year.)


Short Fiction

“Death at the Door” in Fall Into Fantasy 2022 (9,000 words in my story, ~80k in the whole book)

“The Wish Artist” in The Arcanist (850 words)


In all, a very productive year! Proud of myself for this one.

The Really, Really, Really, Really, REALLY Big Difference Between Writing and Publishing

I think a lot of the world, myself included, have a fairly naïve perspective on what it means to “write” a book. Hell, I didn’t really have a clue what it all encompassed before I started these activities a few years ago. Like most people, I loved reading books and magazines, and I’m sure my thought process at some point was the same as everyone else who has ever curled up with a good volume: “This is awesome! I would love to be part of creating stories like this.”And thus begins the journey of many from infatuated fan to aspiring novelist, essayist, journalist, or creative memoirist. It’s a naïve position, one that, should it remain in that unenlightened state, might actually allow someone to continue to enjoy the writing process.

Photo by Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

Writing is a creative, generative activity. 

For me, it’s akin to the growing and birthing of life. First there is nothing, in fact there are two nothings, like two separate ideas, that eventually come together. Maybe, “What if there was technology that could dramatically extend lifespans? And that was applied to a prisoner who was in prison for ‘life plus a thousand years’?”

And then out of that nothing there emerges something, and then that something takes on a form and grows and grows and grows, finally resembling a thing, a reality, something concrete and solid, beyond just imagination or ideation.

Eventually, you have a thing! Just like you have a baby child, or a newborn kitten, or a foal, or a baby giraffe, you can see that the thing is there and you can have some general idea where it’s going to go in the future.

You might not be able to completely predict, and you might not be able to control, but you can at least be there to provide it the right values, offer boundaries and corrections if it’s off track, and encourage it as it takes ever increasing risks to discover just what it is, and cheer it on as it finally reaches its final form.

Publishing, however, feels less like a generative process and more like a reductive one. 

Look, I get that there are developmental editors, and peer reviewers, and critiquers, and that’s not what I’m talking about. Those are more like the mentors and advisors that come into the story’s life during its young adulthood so that it doesn’t go off the rails, and it actually meets the goals it has for its own life and doesn’t completely disappoint its parents by doing something stupid, like getting addicted to pot or becoming a fan of the Cleveland Browns.

Instead, the publishing process that I’ve gone through, whether that’s via submitting stories to multiple journals or creating and publishing a book (which I’ve done thrice now!) feels more like you’re carving a finished product out of a big empty block of marble. Michelangelo’s quote about “removing everything that was not David” seems especially apt. When you’re publishing, you’re removing everything that is creative, and you’re basically inverting the pyramid of effort and emotional energy expenditure.

During submissions, you’re not being creative at all. It’s simply process, a decision tree that must be followed without any sort of thinking: Is this a market that takes my kind of story? My length of story? My aesthetic of story? Does this market pay what I want for the story? Is it open? Do I match the criteria for authors? Will it respond fairly reasonably?

When you’re working on publishing, yes, there can be some creativity, but substantially all your effort is devoid of that generative activity which gives me energy. Sure, you have some flexibility when decide on a cover design, but the vast majority is more rote activity: What size pages do you want? What font? Blank pages here and there? Header? Footer? Page numbers? Spacing of lines? Margins? Do you have an account set up with the publisher? Did you choose all the categories appropriately? Turn on all the right switches, and turn off all the others? Did you proofread every page? Double-check everything? Did you pay your invoices? Did you set up all your reminders?

I haven’t worked with an agent and traditional publisher, but I suspect the same kind of administrative headache saps your emotional energy: does this agent work with your genre? Are they accepting new clients? Did you send the right number of pages? Did you get formatting correctly? Did you sign all the dots and pieces correctly? Did you input the right account numbers? Did you set all the switches on the client portal right? Do you have the meetings on your calendar? Do you have all your accounting set up correctly? Fuckin’ accounting. Shit, man, I though this was about writing stories! Nobody wants to keep track of goddamn receipts, we got narrative arcs to tend to and emotional beats to ensure get appropriately spread throughout the second act.

Thus the end-to-end is heavily weighted towards the administrative, tedious stuff, and I suspect that what often happens is someone loves writing, does some of it, is willing to put in the effort to practice and get critiques and make it better and better and better, but when it comes to publishing eventually gets smacked in the face by the alternate reality. Hard. Like, brick wall at 80 miles an hour hard. And that’s when they quit.

I don’t blame them.

In my experience, it feels like writing the text itself is only about 25% of actually completing a book. 

And the publishing is the other 75%. Which means that the vast majority of the work isn’t in the writing, it’s in the publishing. And therefore, it’s no wonder why I’ve spent so much of my time in the past years on writing for myself, and very little on publishing.

I’m fine with that. You know, it’s a maturation that I think all writers go through. And it’s an unspoken truism of the writing and publishing world that non-writers and non-publishers just don’t understand.

Maybe I should have joined those who quit while they’re still writing for themselves. Perhaps then I’d just be doing what I was doing for ten years, just drafting stories in my notebook and leaving them there, satisfied by my obeisance to the Muse and my cup filled with the knowledge that I’ve been honest to myself and my desires.

But I didn’t. And, through that, I’m glad I have persisted. There is value in publishing, certainly, and yet I’m not experienced enough in that to be able to fully flesh out all the value. I’m pretty sure it’s not a fair trade for all the administrative headaches, but I can’t be sure yet. Perhaps with a few more rounds to evaluate I’ll be able to create some greater objectivity.

Anyway.

I don’t really know how to finish off this exposition. Do I regret publishing? No. Do I wish it on others? Not on the unprepared, or those with weak stomachs who just want to enjoy the creative process or just appreciate the finished product.

This process exposes several undesirable elements that are quite easily glossed over in the pursuit of “Bestseller” status. If you’re fine holding your nose and putting up with them, you can get there. But if you’d rather remain indefinitely in the blissful ignorance of your youth, maybe better not to even try.

So that’s the major difference between writing and publishing. The WRITING is actual, real, exploratory development. It’s the storytelling that all of us fell in love with and which inspired us to pursue this kind of thing.

PUBLISHING is, to commandeer a phrase, the mind-killer. It’s the thing which, I would bet, turns more people off from actually putting their work out into the world than the creative process itself. It’s probably holding loads of us back, and, frankly, I don’t know how to solve the problem. Except by maybe, lowering our own standards and accepting that not everything we read is going to be superlative: it won’t be the newest, freshest, most intriguing, most-hyped, bestest anything. It won’t win awards. It won’t light a fire in our nether regions. It won’t move mountains, inspire thousands of ships, make us sit up and take notice, or even be worthy of commenting to our partner in the bed beside us.

But, still, it’s worth it. 

Because it’s someone’s creation. And therefore it’s worthy of reading, even if for no more reason than to validate the effort.

I’m Ecstatic That Terrible Movies Like Top Gun: Maverick Exist

A few months ago I ranted (and quite eloquently so, if I do say so myself) about the several problems inherent in the May 2022 release of Top Gun: Maverick. From the plot to the characters to the fundamentally wrong story, I lambasted the whole entire project as being misguided and off-the-mark.

(I’m not the only one. Here’s “Everything wrong with Maverick in 23 minutes”.)

At the same time, I also wrote this:

Now – with all of that said – you’re probably going to think I’m about to say that Maverick shouldn’t have been made. That it was a waste of time and money. That it isn’t art. That it’s ridiculous, and nobody should go see it.

Unfortunately, if you bet like that, I’m taking your money. Because, in fact, while it may be terrible art, it is still art. And in the next installment, I’m going to tell you why I’m ecstatic that Maverick exists.

So, true to my word, here’s the complementary article – that while Maverick was bad, I’m still stoked that humanity made it. Here’s why.

Movies Are Art

And art is beautiful.

Photo by Alexander Grey on Pexels.com

Because art is the fullest expression of our humanity. As a species, we have advanced technologically and societally to the point where we no longer need to spend 95% of our waking hours on food cultivation (whether from hunting or gathering) and 95% of the remaining time on procreation. Way back when, like 50,000 years ago, there was no art, because there just wasn’t time for it. Who can make a sculpture when your fingers are bloody, or missing, from the thirteen hours you spent at the stone quarry? Who has energy to sing a song when you’re out of breath all day from chasing an antelope until it collapses and you drag it for six hours back to the hut to be processed? Who has mental capacity to think about something new when all you can do is shiver because the snow came so early that it froze everything and now all you can imagine is that you and your tribe are going to die very, very soon and very, very painfully?

Now, though, and by “now” I mean about the last five thousand years or so, we have become so damn efficient at what we do when we’re just getting by that we actually have enough time to spend it doing something else. And whatever we do in the excess time is, in fact, make art. Scott McCloud makes a great presentation of this in chapter 7 of Understanding Comics, and I encourage anyone to check it out.

Whether you’re writing novels, playing in the garage band, assembling radio-controlled drones and racing them in the Tuesday night league, or participating in Twitch streams of Magic: the Gathering, all of these are, by the definition that I support, artistic endeavors, because they are beyond the boundaries traditionally recognized of survival and reproduction.

The fact that we can make art means we have achieved.

We have arrived. We are there. We have overcome the persistent, perpetual barriers to survival and procreation that have plagued and continue to plague every other species in this planet’s existence. Barriers like drought, unpredictable hurricanes or tornadoes or typhoons, flooding, excess or insufficient snowfall, earthquakes and landslides, excessive predation, insufficient food supply without ready alternatives, and so on. In the past (again, before maybe five or ten thousand years ago), virtually any of those would have been catastrophic enough to wipe out a whole tribe without warning.

But now, those problems are essentially solved. We have wonderful modern creations like vaccines, hydroponic farms, interstate and international travel, and indoor plumbing. INDOOR PLUBMING! Do you know how magical it is that you can have a healthy poop and never actually have to see it again? Amazing.

Sure, we have problems. Of course we’re dramatically altering our climate by our actions, and you’d be a motherloving idiot to think that our children and grandchildren aren’t going to be paying for our sins and those of the three generations immediately before us.

 But the fact is, we now can do things like predict when the next famine is going to come, where the water supply is going to be sufficient or insufficient, what the hurricane season is going to be like, and how long all of these disruptions will last. More importantly, because we can see these challenges coming, we have learned to prepare for them. Remember the story of Joseph in the Bible? Yeah, he made the people of Egypt set aside their extra grain for years before the famine came, despite lots of skepticism and vitriol at the fact that he was depriving the people at the time. When he was proven right, the society flourished because all their neighbors, who were suffering for lack of foresight, came begging.

That kind of opportunity to save for the future only comes about when there’s an actual excess available to store for later. And that excess production capacity means that we not only can save for the future, at some point we’ll realize that we’ve probably saved enough that any more will just be wasting, and it’s time to turn our attentions elsewhere. Such as producing art.

It’s no surprise then that the growth of art, culture, and civilization are directly coincident with the improvement of humanity’s sustainability and resilience against the threats of external forces aligned against us.

So, yes, I’m proud of humanity. I’m proud of how far we’ve come. I am proud that the last thirty thousand generations have sacrificed and worked so hard to provide our recent generations the opportunity that arises from abundant production, so that we can spend however many thousands of our hours scripting, shooting, editing, and distributing artistic endeavors like Top Gun: Maverick. I’m proud of the achievement that humanity has made in overcoming the sustainability gap that so many before us had to suffer through.

And for that work and sacrifice I thank them immensely. I believe our artistic endeavors justify and validate the hard work that they have offered up. And so (paraphrasing a well-known phrase), while I may disagree with the premise and execution of making this particular movie, I am emphatically supportive of the efforts to do so.

Art Creates Community

Community means to have things “in common”, or shared. We share place, and foods, and time, often religion, and most especially values. Just look at how much alignment there is about how great this movie is, despite the small minority who dissent.

This movie has created a shared sense of community that had been in decline for years before the COVID-19 pandemic, and was virtually disintegrated during those two years of “isolation”, whether self-imposed or state-imposed.

Compare streaming a movie at home or renting a DVD/Blu-Ray and watching with your family. Sure, you’re seeing the same scenes in the same order. But you’re not experiencing the same thing that the rest of the audience is.

In contrast, whether you’re at a theater for film, watching a stage play or musical, or listening to the symphony, you’re experiencing it in communion with hundreds or thousands of your fellow homo sapiens. In addition, if you’re at a live performance, there’s the artists who have to look you in the eye (figuratively) and perform. They are there with you, creating with you, experiencing with you, and you have that shared, common, communal understanding of time, place, emotion, and sensibility.

Watching Maverick in theaters brought back that sense that there is something, many things, out beyond the barriers of our own living room. When you’re at home you have so many other distractions – the cat jumps on your lap, the Tinder notification goes off, the peanut butter jar is calling your name. Each of these breaks your concentration and, by extension, your experience of the story. You get out of the flow state, that resonant parallelism that comes from doing the same thing as others are at the same time that they are doing it.

That parallelism seems to satisfy some kind of ingrained need within humans to be around other humans.

Remember, humanity is a communal species. We are not polar bears, who do their own thing and spend loads and loads of time alone. We are more akin to lions, where we do some of our own thing, but the greater majority of time and energy is spent with others. Live artistic performances are one of the greatest ways that humans have developed to execute on that inclination.

And we need it! See above, where we have become so efficient at food production and sustenance that we no longer depend on the assistance of others just to get through the winter. We used to, and so our epigenetics have instilled within us a bio-logical pressure to seek out other humans and share our experiences with them as they share with us. It’s almost as if there is an internal spring which is continually creating a desire to be around others that, if we don’t give vent to that desire, builds up a pressure within each of us that is only released when we actually get near others and perform some kind of activity at the same time.

Why else do so many people congregate at music festivals? It’s not for the music, or the sex, both of which can be easily had at home. It’s because of the community, the shared experience, that is created when they come together.

And so, coming as it did after about two years of constrained options to relieve that pressure for community, Top Gun: Maverick became something of a perfect opportunity to allow a large portion of humanity to finally get back to that community, that “bigger-than-just-me” feel that we had been missing for so long, even if we didn’t have the words to express our deficiency.

I’m Excited We Have a Culture That Allows My Dissent

There are several places where movies are made, but they must conform to the “party lines”, if you will. The most prominent example will be China, where the endings of popular Hollywood movies are changed in order to produce a different message.

Censors have altered the ending of the recent animated film Minions: The Rise of Gru for its domestic release in China, social media users across the country noticed over the weekend. …

According to posts and screenshots from the movie shared on Weibo, a platform similar to Twitter, censors tacked on an addendum in which Wild Knuckles, a main character in the heist film, was caught by police and served 20 years in jail.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/chinese-censors-change-ending-latest-minions-movie-rcna44345

And that’s not the only one. Imagine any book published, movie produced, or play performed in any totalitarian regime (North Korea, Azerbaijan, and Venezuela come to mind) that is critical of the government. Wouldn’t happen. Or, imagine that the movie which sings the government’s praises is criticized and called “terrible”, as I’m doing here. That, too, might go unpunished for, oh, say about three minutes. And then I’d be removed from the breeding pool and offered a Darwin Award for my troubles.

Having no freedom to make what you wish to make, to tell the story you wish to tell, must be incredibly depressing. Even more, having your story changed to fit some external narrative must feel like you’ve been corrupted, or commandeered, or somehow conscripted into sending a message that you didn’t intend.

It must feel like choking on your own opinion. You just want so badly to say something, and then someone else comes along and dictates what you must say, and totally perverts your artistic integrity.

The same holds for opinion about stories published and the messages therein. We (in the free world), much more than in any totalitarian society, have the opportunity to express our dissents without fear of reprisal.

We are not living in Orwell’s 1984, and I hope we never get there.

In that world, people are no longer masters of their own body, either via actions or speech. They are monitored, controlled, and re-educated for acting against the official lines. You think anyone there would be allowed to make a review calling Maverick “terrible”? Me neither.

We live in a world (in the general “west”), where I can express my thoughts freely. I am allowed to be one of the very small minority (fewer than 2% of the ratings on IMDB are 5 or lower) of viewers who think Maverick is a poor movie.

And the fact that I can do so, that I can write an essay titled “Top Gun: Maverick is terrible,” and this follow-up, without fear of reprise, without fear of losing some kind of social credit that I need simply in order to survive, is another level of amazing.

This is along the lines of the excess production we have created, mentioned in my first point above. We have created such a wondrous place that I hope we never, ever, ever forget or take for granted the freedoms and opportunities we have.

This is a wonderful world. Let us live like it is.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. I’m excited that we the have the capacity to make art, I’m happy that we can share it with others, and I’m thrilled that we don’t all have to have the same viewpoint. Maverick helped illuminate all of these, and gave me the framework to codify my thoughts on the subject.

For all of that, I’m grateful. In fact, you might say, I’m ecstatic that Maverick exists.

Photo by Diva Plavalaguna on Pexels.com

Extremely Bad Advice – Snowy Situation

DEAR SJ: How can I get my husband to take it easy on shoveling snow?

Every time it snows, my husband goes out with his shovel and scrapes our driveway. Then he scrapes the sidewalks for about five or six houses each direction from ours. He says he “has to” because he knows there are people walking dogs and he wants to make a nice path for them.

The thing is, none of the other neighbors shovel their driveways or sidewalks, so he’s the only one in the area putting himself out. It’s a problem for me because after he’s done, his back hurts so much that he just sits on the couch all day and complains, making me bring him coffee and snacks. I’ve tried talking with him about it, getting him to ease up and just do our driveway, because that way he wouldn’t hurt so much, but he says it’s the right thing to do, so he’s going to keep doing it.

How can I get him to stop doing so much for other people who don’t appreciate it?

— Snowy Chloie

Dear Snow-job,

You don’t. You don’t get him to stop doing so much for other people.

That’s not the problem. Neither is his back pain, his complaints and demands on you, or the fact that others don’t appreciate his service. You wanna know what the problem is? It’s you. YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.

Don’t you see? The reason that we’re in this situation is not that other people don’t shovel their sidewalks and therefore your husband has to. We are here because you have this irrational belief that your husband, and you by extension, do not owe your community anything beyond not farting in front of them in line at the bank. That’s a ridiculously smooth-brained perspective that, up until about a hundred years ago, would have resulted in your starvation at the first bad harvest.

What has this world come to that we’ve gotten to the place where people doing something good for someone else is now a bad thing?

Read the rest on Patreon.

We Did the Thing: BOOK PUBLISHED! SHOTS FIRED!

So, okay, you know I’ve been writing Extremely Bad Advice articles for over a year now, right?

And that I’ve been threatening to publish a book?

Well, now it’s official – I’m approved!

Everything Is Your Fault! The best Extremely Bad Advice, volume 1

Now available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats!

There’s great advice about life, love, relationships, career, how to live a good life, finances, career decisions, even spiritual dilemmas.

Frankly, I think this should be within reach of every single porcelain throne, nightstand, and above the Gideon Bible in every North American hotel room. But since I don’t quite have the capital to make that happen, I’ll just go with this instead.

I would LOVE for you all to head over, pick up a copy, and leave a review.

And, comment here about what you think!

Story published! The Wish Artist in The Arcanist

Really proud of this one! I wrote this during Weekend Warrior contest this year, where we were supposed to come up with a <750-word story in a weekend. This one came out from a prompt about alternate ways to grant wishes, and in revision it only needed a slight expansion of about 100 words. Here’s the teaser:

The Wish Artist

Stephan James

The little bell above the doorway tinkles as she enters my parlor. Immediately I recognize the signs: clothes rumpled, eyes sunken and dark, fingernails picked to the quick. She’s desperate.

“Help you?” I ask.

“I need one,” she says, and I don’t even bother with the charade of asking one of what. Those in her situation only ever want one thing — to survive — and so they’ve followed the rumors of the magic that might live here.

Photo by Adrian Boustead on Pexels.com

Want to read the rest? Find it at The Arcanist.

Extremely Bad Advice – Fired Fred

Dear SJ:

Is it appropriate to express condolences to a co-worker who was terminated, if you feel that termination was well-justified?

The co-worker is surely stressed at having lost his job, but he didn’t deliver what was asked of him. I was often slowed down or frustrated by his professional actions. Still, I didn’t personally dislike him. I feel like I should say something nice to him, to ease his emotional distress. What do you think?

— Conscientious Co-worker

Dear Conceited:

I think you should shut your manatee-sized yap and go back to putting your head down and shoveling shit into it. 

Why the fuck would you have this inclination to say something to Fired Fred? Oh, right, it’s because it’s not about him at all, is it? It’s about you and getting more attention on you for being some kind of two-faced, self-righteous pariah.

On the one face, he’s been actively (or unintentionally) making your job, and your life, harder by either his willful unprofessionalism or his ignorance of the proper ways to do things. I’m not sure which is worse, frankly. But the point is, he wasn’t getting done what needed to be done, what he had agreed to do, and which others, at several different levels, were counting on him to do, so you’ve been picking up his slack. As a result, you would be fully justified in being happy that he’s now gone and management can hire someone with a greater-than-79 IQ for once and you can go back to fulfilling your appropriate role without burning out over his incompetence.

For the other face…

read the rest on Patreon

I’m a Believer

What do you believe? About yourself? About your work?

I had a story accepted this month (October). This makes three in the past four months. Death at the Door was accepted into an anthology that I didn’t even submit for! Consider the Possibilities was accepted into a stand-alone digital short series that should be published in 2023. The Wish Artist was selected for an online magazine with a professional-level rate ($0.10 / word), my first ever fiction publication of such status. (I have had other writing pay me more, but that’s a different category altogether, so I’m not including it in the mental gymnastics involved here.)

And yet, even with that relatively successful few months (versus the past five years), I still find it hard to get excited about these acceptances.

One of my fellow writers asks me, whenever I’ve got something like this to announce, “And how are you going to celebrate?”

I struggle with celebration. I struggle to accept that my story has been selected, published, that I got paid for doing it. I mean, intellectually I know that that’s exactly why I’m submitting, rather than just writing and either keeping it to myself or publishing it on my own site, but, still, I don’t exactly feel like it’s real.

The spiral of negative, self-sabotaging thoughts goes something like this:

How are you going to celebrate?

Well, see, I can’t exactly celebrate yet, because though they accepted my story and I’ve signed the agreement, they haven’t given a publication date and haven’t paid me and haven’t offered any suggested edits or anything, so I’m still quite skeptical that it’s going to actually go through.

How are you going to celebrate?

Well, see, I don’t really know if I should, because it was in an anthology that like nobody is going to read, and it was such a token payment anyway that it doesn’t really mean anything, and it’s kind of hard to find anybody who’s going to care, so, it’s not really something to brag about.

How are you going to celebrate?

Uh, for this one, mostly by disbelieving that it’s real until it’s actually out on the interwebz, despite the fact that I’ve gotten a contract and had correspondence with the editor and been paid, and yeah, this one is a “professional” level rate so it’s harder to ignore, but still, I’m going to keep thinking less of myself until it’s really out there, and, even then, I know that celebration is going to be hard to come by, because celebration and self-promotion and “Hey, look what I did!” isn’t really my thing.

God, typing it all out is rather disheartening. It’s sad to see that I think so little of my achievements.

But it’s typical of my whole personality, not just in writing. I disbelieve my work in virtually any area where I pursue. For example: I recently ran a half-marathon. 13.1 miles, took me over 2 and a half hours, and when I finished I was hella proud of myself for going farther than I have in nearly a decade. But you know what one of my very quick follow-on thoughts was? “Oh, sure, but there were people who ran marathons that day, too! Your half isn’t really that special.”

It’s like there’s this part of my psyche that just doesn’t accept that I can have good things too.

Like, it’s all well and good for other people to be happy about new stories coming out or sold, but, for me, it’s really hard to do. [Yes, I’ve forced myself to do it some, but it’s just not a natural feeling like I somehow think it should be.]

So why don’t I believe it? Why do I still feel like I’ve not “arrived” or I’m not “worthy” or I’m actually just sort of “pretending” to be writing these things? (Or running, or getting a certain professional qualification, or whatever…)

Is it the fact that it’s been such a long road for me to get here, something like 38 years between my first story in 3rd grade and now? When other writers I’ve admired have had stories, poems, even whole books published at 17, 23, 30? Am I just jealous or petty? Maybe.

Is it the rather harsh rebuke I received from another well-established writer when I pitched him a collaboration and he basically told me to Fuck off, if that’s the way you think about writing, you’ll never be a writer? I admit, I did let that bother me for the first couple of months, but it was years ago now and the idea only pops up in my head like once a year, so that’s probably not it.

Is it the fact that I’ve spent my last two decades treating writing as a thing for me only, a hobby, a pastime, rather than a craft to be honed with feedback, as everyone says it must be, because everyone says it’s really hard to write a story and make it the best it can be, and I don’t like that editing process, I really just want to write a first draft, maybe tune up a few paragraphs in the second draft and get it out into the world, and because I am ignoring the rules of developing writing skill and just sort of hoping to luckbox into publication I’m kidding myself that my stuff is any good, and so when things like acceptances come along I feel like I’ve somehow tricked the editors into accepting my story?

Or is it possible that I’ve been so spurned by the historical pattern of rejections, so burned and so jaded and so expectant that it will simply be more of the same, that I don’t actually believe the acceptance? That I distrust that it’s real? That in my subconscious, I’m self-preservationally holding back my excitement at this positive development, so that when things return to “normal” I’m not so scarred by that future state of everyone hates everything all the time, why bother? Maybe. Hell, that’s probably the surface of a really deep insight my therapist ought to help me unpack.

Point is, I don’t know why I don’t believe it. But I do know that it’s a consistent tendency within myself to discount my accomplishments, because they’re somehow never enough. I probably have some kind of “achievement complex”. I once complained that I was going through my mid-life crisis pretty early, like before 40, and my mother commented, “Well, you’ve always been an over-achiever.” Like I couldn’t even wait until a normal time to disintegrate my life, I had to make it happen extra-soon. Ugh.

There’s no way I’m going to figure it out right now. Maybe not even in the next year, or five, or ten. By the time I’m dead? Probably. Fat lot of good a new mindset will do me then, eh?

So I guess the only thing left to do is, just keep doing it. Faking it. “Fake it till you make it,” right? Because in faking it, you trick your body and mind into understanding what it means to “make it”. And then, when you actually do it, you won’t be faking any longer. And your subconscious won’t have to be so damn skeptical all the time.

Right?


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Coming Soon: The Best Damn Book I’ve Published Yet!

So, you know how I’ve been writing extremely bad advice over on my Patreon page? Well, what better way to celebrate over 100 nuggets of pure wisdom inflicted on this modern world than to give back by making them even more accessible?

Targeting November 25 (Black Friday) for release, as this is, in my mind, the ultimate gag gift. Don’t believe me? Here’s the pitch:

In Everything Is Your Fault SJ answers public advice questions with straightforward, no-nonsense common-sense answers that everyone absolutely should follow. But, since basically everybody except him is a raging dimwit, he also stoops to that level and panders to those who just want their preconceived ideas validated.

Great for gag gifts, Yankee Swap, or just to get back at that self-righteous sister who always thinks she’s better than you, Everything Is Your Fault will be a staple in your trash pile faster than you can say “adoofussayswhat”.

Find it on Amazon soon!