{three steps forward, two steps back}


Because my writing group “meets” on Friday, Monday is one of the more difficult work days for me, at least when my work is up for critique. I set things aside for the weekend, but know that Monday means reading through line edits and commentary from my compatriots, and seeing through their eyes where I’ve fallen short in what I’m endeavoring to portray.

This past Friday there were so many questions asked about the political and military systems in my science fiction novel that I’m actually kind of dreading getting to work. Part of the problem is that my readers are reading the story episodically, only a few chapters a month, with long pauses in between — and the other issue is that not all of them are sci-fi geeks like I am. Their questions are good ones, but I am beginning to seriously question my own storytelling ability if they can’t tell a space station from a planet. (Granted: the activity thus far is all taking place indoors, not out on any planet surface, so they can be excused for being confused, but…) As always happens when I start wondering about myself, whispery, niggling questions become fifty foot speakers blaring doubts into my subconscious: You should probably just stick to historical fiction or something – it’s what people like from you. You can’t really write science fiction anyway — I mean, that’s not really an African American thing. Have you ever noticed there’s only one leading brown person cast per show on Star Trek? (Think about that, peeps – Originals to NextGen all the way through to DS9.) African Americans don’t even do steampunk. Why are you going where you’re not wanted? What do you know about science and technology and robotics? Your fight scenes are totally implausible, and no one will want to read this novel.

Welcome to the killing fields that reside in my brain.

It’s amazing how simple questions can just throw you – and throw you hard. Geez, it’s just a tiny thing, but it makes me want to sit down like a toddler in the middle of the mall, say “NO” and not go any further. What’s wrong with me? I don’t know what to say except that the minute I start asking myself stupid stuff like this, I know I have to push through. I know I’m doing something different and novel and unusual for me, which means there’s an opportunity for growth and innovation and to change the minds of people who actually think the way my mental ghetto does — and I want to take that opportunity.

I have a good writing group. Tech Boy has promised to read for me later this week. So, I really should be getting on with things, right?

I will. In a minute. First, though, I’m in the mood for some Milay.


I must not die of pity; I must live;
Grow strong. not sicken; eat, digest my food,
That it may build me, and in doing good
To blood and bone, broaden the sensitive
Fastidious pale perception: we contrive
Lean comfort for the starving, who intrude
Upon them with our pots of pity; brewed
From stronger meat must be the broth we give.
Blue, bright September day, with here and there
On the green hills a maple turning red,
And white clouds racing in the windy air!-
If I would help the weak, I must be fed
In wit and purpose, pour away despair
And rinse the cup, eat happiness like bread.

~Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’m kicking over the cup of despair and dumping it on the stairs. Enough with the pity party; on with the work.

Woodlands 36 HDR

Keep climbing.

13 Replies to “{three steps forward, two steps back}”

  1. ah jeekers. That sounds like a crumby (crummy????) place to be…and I hope it blows itself out quickly, and the bad inner voices go off and play in traffic.

    I like the Milay, and hope it works for you! I myself always go with the Houseman, whom I otherwise do not like (which includes the rest of the poem I quote)–“Bear [it] we can, and if we can we must. Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.”

  2. Gorgeous photo, Tanita, the perfect poem, and a moving post. You already have it figured out, brava:

    “I know I have to push through. I know Iโ€™m doing something different and novel and unusual for me, which means thereโ€™s an opportunity for growth and innovation and to change the minds of people who actually think the way my mental ghetto does โ€” and I want to take that opportunity.”

    Keep going, Tanita, I have every faith the novel will be great. I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man” for the first time and really enjoying it. Sci-Fi allows us to re-imagine and retell, and I’ve been really impressed and moved by how it allows us to re-see. I’m reading Bradbury and all I can think about is Orwell’s masterful “Animal Farm.” It seems we need to go to other worlds and other peoples to understand our own and I love all the hope and opportunity and invention and imagination there. You go.

    When you have a finished first draft, if you need a reader, just holler …

  3. Tanita, you really shouldn’t let the only person who couldn’t tell the difference between a planet and a space station :cough, blush: to cause you to question, of all things, your story-telling abilities. Seriously! The story telling is superb! And tell your inner critic I disagree: you can write anything that interests you, and your fight scenes are brilliant!

  4. You can do it!!!

    It’s hard when the nagging doubts get in your mind, but you’re right, it’s hard to read things episodically, it’s one of the issues I’ve had in workshops before, and screw the doubts about writing sci-fi, steampunk. If anyone can do it, I bet it’s you!

    Although maybe I’m just saying some of this to cheer myself up–I just emailed in my submission for this week (2 poems a week in an attempt to actually make the 60 page thesis requirement). Ugh. Monday’s suck sometimes.

    Good luck with the writing!!!

  5. Go, Tanita! I think the “being read episodically” probably has a lot to do with the issue. It’s very difficult for me to critique that way (on anything plot-related). All I can do is comment on the writing itself, the language. It’s hard for me to hold plot and character quirks and relationships in my head for months at a time. I’m getting ready (I swear!) to revise a chapter book, and I have no idea how I’m going to present it/get useful feedback from my two in-person groups. Ack.

    But you’re right, you just have to keep on and “pour away despair/
    And rinse the cup, eat happiness like bread.” How lovely that is.

    I also love “broaden the sensitive/Fastidious pale perception.”

    Show ’em how it’s done!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.