Just did a walk-about writing break, and thought about one of last night’s dreams.
I was helping a man build a path. We each had a length of nylon rope. What I thought of as his rope was yellow and mine was white. The white rope was in my left hand, and the yellow rope was in my right. It was reversed for him. We were using the ropes to lay out the path. It was a long path, and were squatting down to do this.
So, weird, the path already existed in my mind, because he was laying the rope on a long and straight stretch of black cement. On either end was a platform that people were to use to arrive and depart.
Others were watching from grassy areas on either side of me. The man would shift the ropes one way and then the other as I followed his lead. I didn’t understand why he was doing this. “How’s it going?” an onlooker asked me.
“Slow,” I said. “I don’t understand what he’s doing. One, the path already exists. Why does he need another one? Two, why was he trying different paths? I don’t see what the difference he makes? Why doesn’t he make a decision? As part of that, I don’t understand why the path that’s already there doesn’t satisfy him. Three, shouldn’t the path, if you were going to make it, connect the platforms that people were expected to use?”
The onlooker said, “I don’t know.”
That dream ended.
Of course, thinking about it during my walk, I realized that I’m the other man. I have the path establish but doubt keeps me looking for another path. Why, I keep asking myself, just as I do in the dream? Clearly, it’s because I doubt the path, even though it’s already established.
First, this has nothing to do with Zola’s letter, except the title. This is about my dream, aspirations, and doubts.
As background, I finished writing and editing a series of novels called Incomplete States. With that finished, I was moving into the next steps of what to do when you’re written a novel and want to get it published. Options are available.
My dreamscape has been quiet for several days so I didn’t think my decisions would show up in my dreams. But, boom, they came. When I awoke and thought about it, I laughed about what I’d dreamed.
The dream began with a new venture. People were expecting me and had high expectations for what I would do. I was relaxed, going about getting acclimated. As the dream progressed, I learned that I was in the military (again), involved with command and control.
Awakening, I thought, “Of course the military would be included.” I’d spent twenty years in the military. The structure helped me succeed without stretching myself. It was a comfortable existence. I often retreat to it in dreams.
Things quickly began going awry in the dream. I felt constantly behind and a little bit lost. I couldn’t find my uniform. I discovered I was already supposed to be somewhere, and I was late. Scrambling, I rushed to find my uniform, shave, dress, and get to work.
I was naked when my wife came in. “What’s this?” she pointed at my side. I couldn’t see what she referenced.
“Have you seen yourself in the mirror?” she said, and then steered to a mirror. “I think you’d better take a look.”
She pointed out several boils on my side. Horrified, I tried lancing them, and failed. The effort put me behind. Now I really had to scramble.
Awakening, I realized that I was facing my anxieties. “Have you seen yourself in the mirror?” That question seemed like I was trying to pretend to be someone else, and that I wasn’t clearly seeing myself and the situation, that I was misleading myself. And look how I’m blemished and flawed, the things I don’t see about myself, how I’m fooling myself. I took all of that about my publishing ambitions.
Finding shaving cream, I hunted down a mirror and started applying it to shave. The shaving cream was thick and brown. Crude and unfinished, I thought after awakening and reflecting on the dream, just as I worry that others will think about the series.
Another military member in uniform stuck their head in the window. “What are you doing?” I said.
“Looking at someone using a mirror,” he said. “I’ve never seen that done before. I was wondering what it’s like.”
How absurd, I thought, but, awakening, I realized that I was questioning even the most basic aspects of myself. I remembered reading about experiments involving animals mirrors. Looking in a mirror and realizing that you’re seeing yourself is used to explore animal intelligence and self-awareness. By implying that I (as another entity in the dream) didn’t know how to use a mirror was a question about my self-awareness and intelligence.
A phone rang and I answered it. “We have an inflight emergency,” a male voice said. “We need you here to decide what to do.”
I was appalled. “But I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Then you’re not coming?”
“No.” I hung up.
I didn’t need to think much about that aspect after awakening. The message behind the words seem nakedly clear, as did the next dream segment.
A chief master sergeant that I’d worked for during my first tour called me to him. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but this isn’t working out. To be honest, I expected more of you. It didn’t work out so I’m sending you back home.”
“‘But Chief,” I protested, but he wouldn’t listen to me.
Yes, it was all there, all the doubts, uncertainty, and uncertainty, along with rejection by a person in authority who I admired.
I thought I’d mastered these things, demonstrating again how easily I can fool myself. Yes, those doubts exist. Hell, they exist with the majority of efforts that anyone does. To reach and succeed, failure, ridicule, and exposure must be risked. These doubts are always in me, no matter how many times I’ve succeeded, or how often I’ve been reassured by myself and others. That’s just part of who I am.
While it gave me a good laugh to see how earnestly my subconscious mind (and thus, me) attacked me, it hasn’t changed anything. It’s there, and I know it, but I’m stepping out.
The last two nights’ dreams have battered me. Tempestuous and often shocking, they uncovered memories, eroding the foundations of my confidence, prompting A.M. shakiness.
In one dream, my wife and neighbors had killed another neighbor. He was married to one of the neighboring females. I didn’t understand why they’d killed him nor why they were unconcerned.
The police rounded them up. My wife and neighbors had skinned the body, though. As I heard it, they planned to eat the man. While I struggled to clarify what I heard, they cheerfully entered the police station. They weren’t being arrested. It turned out the police had already arrested one of the perpetrators for the crime, but now my wife and neighbors were picking him up. He was being released. I didn’t understand how or why.
Another memorable dream had people secretly plotting to kill a wealthy, powerful family. This dream took place in faded green light. Little was clearly seen beyond silhouettes. The powerful family — husband, wife, and three children — was being betrayed. A missile strike was being planned to take them out.
Learning about it, I furtively warned the family. The covertly relayed that they’d been suspicious and thanked me. I kept an eye on them and the man betraying them. I saw him on a telephone, on of those big and corded push-button desk phones that were popular last century. Sneaking up, I overheard him telling the killers to call off the strike because I’d warned the family.
He noticed me spying on them, so he hung up and I left. Coming around later, I heard him on the phone again, telling those on the other end to wait to launch the missiles until he called them. He wanted to kill me at the same time so that I couldn’t cause them trouble. The missiles were launched, but then recalled.
Another dream was about powerful rains. Heavy charcoal clouds thickened overhead, and then pouring rain shuttered visibility. Rain sluiced off roofs and overflowed storm drains and gutters. Torrents filled the streets. Pedestrians and drivers were freaked as cars and feet splashed through fast, rising water. The water rose until where I walked was a turbulent lake. The lights dimmed under the rain’s relentless pounding.
However, caught in the rain myself, I tried reassuring everyone. Telling them not to worry, I kept saying, “It’s just rain. Don’t worry. This will pass. We’ll be fine.” I couldn’t find anyone to stop and listen to me.
Then memories were uncovered of things others said about me. It was a miserable version of “This Is Your Life”, asshole. Bitter things I’d heard, things that I hadn’t realized that I learned about later, as people spoke behind my back.
Awakening, I realized how much of this is because I’m on the cusp of achievement and decisions that prompt reflections and fears, all around writing and publishing, sharing my work, baring my efforts to others, and being fearful of exposure as an untalented poseur.
A long walk on the way to write pacified much. Thinking about the dreams, I realized that in each, I was never personally affected. I was witness, observer, and bystander, relatively unscathed by the swirl around me. That took me to conclude, this is about emotions and uncertainty. Writing it out now helped me navigate my fears and struggle free of my negative energy, at least momentarily, make some decisions and take some actions.
Time to write and edit like crazy, at least one more time this year.
When I finished writing yesterday, I’d completed another chapter. Now I had three chapters that needed to be pulled together. Each was a thread that seemed unrelated to the others, even though I knew they were related.
Walking along, I thought about that writing process. I’d envisioned something happening to these characters, gone down several side trails (creating the three threads) and now had to tie them together to return to the original story line. I thought about how much of my writing seems like problem solving, and things I’ve done all my life, from solving math problems in school to logic problems done for pleasure, personnel issues because I’d become a manger, on to difficult business cases that required me to find, compile, and analyze data using spreadsheets.
I’ve heard people say that they wrote something but didn’t finish it, because they didn’t know what to do next. Resolving those things shouldn’t stop us, if we’re writers. We dig more deeply, searching for ways to finish the story we’re telling. How we get to that point that we find a way varies. I walk and noodle, and sometimes read other books. Reading fiction often seems to open another door in my mind. It’s a fresh reminder of the importance of reading if you’re writing. Reading stimulates my imagination and creativity.
While I walked and thought, I recognized that I was also intimidated. I was afraid of making a mistake, tying the three together. It’s a major moment in this series.
That amused me, since I knew that what I wrote when I write like crazy is rarely the finished product. I make mistakes, and correct them, trying to improve the story and how I’m telling it. But I also realized that I was over-analyzing what was going on, a regular problem I have with myself for everything from deciding what to order on a menu to, well, writing a novel.
I also laughed at myself because I thought, a million words written, and it seems like a million more to go. It staggered me to think that these four novels plus the support documents for this series added up to over a million words. It didn’t seem like a million words, but I never thought about the sum total when I wrote them. I just wrote, word by word, and it all came together.
It reminded me, too, of walking to get somewhere, and stopping partway through the journey because I’m hot, sweaty, and tired, and realized, I’ve come so far, but there’s more to go. So I pause, look around, accept that I have to walk on to get anywhere, and continue on the path that I began to follow.
So, deep breaths, I told myself. Just sit down, have some coffee, and write. I’ve written a million words; what’s a million more?
Okay, I’ve had the coffee, and I’m sitting down. Time to write like crazy, at least one more time.
I endure a lot of angst about who I am, who I think I pretend to be, and being unmasked as a pretender.
I’m not unusual. Many in western society seem besieged by angst. Writers, from what I read, endure high levels of angst that erodes our self-confidence. We’re always worried about being discovered as a pretender. I think it’s because we’re working alone so often, but also, subconsciously, we compare our works in progress with other published materials and writers. Right or wrongly, we can come out feeling like a loser because we see elements in others’ work that we don’t see in our work.
In retrospect, I believe I suffered an angst spell the other day, when editing fatigue overwhelmed me. There’s no doubt that editing fatigue afflicted me. That isn’t uncommon. I’m usually able to push through. Each of us have limits to how much we can push through. I’d hit mine.
And I believe that my angst contributed. Writing alone, with no one to talk to about my progress, doubts, victories and hopes, leaves me mentally, intellectually and emotionally diminished.
Writing about it was a successful gambit. Just opening up and spilling my concerns was a release. Also helpful is how other writers jumped in with their stories and suggestions. These were enormously helpful to lifting the shroud of doubt and weariness encumbering me. By the next day, I’d resumed editing and revising.
In the aftermath, I considered taking regular breaks from writing, editing and revising to keep me fresh and sharp. Multiple decisions are being made while editing and revising. Some require more thought about the impact on the novel’s overall arcs. It is taxing. Maybe taking breaks would be beneficial.
In classic personal faction, I decided, yes, taking breaks is acceptable, but…scheduling breaks is more troubling for me, so I’ll approach it organically. If I feel a break will help, I’ll do as some comments suggest, and listen to myself.
Now, I have my mocha and I’m at the table. It’s time to edit and revise again, at least one more time.
Strip away the ego.
Shred your fears and doubts.
Subdue your self-loathing, and write, write, write.
Write deeply and fully. Write like nobody but you will ever read it, like nobody but you will ever judge it.
Write, write, write.
Do you hear?
It feels like I’m talking to myself.