Launch Day for ReMade Season 2!

It’s here, it’s here! Today I am tickled to announce the launch of ReMade Season 2. Just to catch you up, ReMade is the sci-fi YA post-apocalyptic serial I’ve been working on over at Serial Box, along with Matt Cody, E.C. Myers, Gwenda Bond, and Amy Rose Capetti (plus season one’s emeritus writers, Kiersten White and Carrie Harris!) It’s like a season of TV — short ebooks or audio books that come out each Wednesday. Starting... today!

I have the tremendous honor and anxiety of getting the very first episode of the season, and it’s a pretty big shift in gears from where we left off — you’ll see what I mean. But all of the things I love about ReMade are even bigger this season: the characters, the relationships, the murderbots, the SF setting.

Episode 1, Patch Job, is available for 100% free right now, to read or to listen, so you should definitely hop on that. And you can still catch up on all of Season 1 on podcast, too. Let me know what you think!


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Out of Sight...

Back in August, I made the switch to an iPad Pro as my primary working device. No laptop. No desktop. Nothing but me and iOS in this thing together. It’s unsurprisingly had a huge impact on how my life and work both operate, and this week I’m going to write about that in some detail.

To warm up, though, I want to talk about a problem I’ve been having lately that I only rarely encountered on a laptop. Friends, I am finding myself bored on the internet. 

This isn’t a new problem; rather a cyclical one, found mostly in the spaces when internet use as a whole is shifting. In the early 90s, browsing Yahoo’s hand-curated index of the World Wide Web and chatting with friends on IRC was enough to occupy as many hours as I had to spare, and more, until it wasn’t. Later, groups and forums filled my time, until they didn’t. Then social media was born, and we all know what happened then.

My RSS reader is light on updates these days. Twitter, at least, seems to be drying up as people tire of Nazis and bad news, and accordingly seek out sunnier digital climates. But none of that is new since August. So why am I feeling listless and bored now?

There’s a piece of diet advice that goes around: put your healthy snacks at eye level, and hide away your cookies so you don’t spot them when you’re hungry.  Well! Apparently I’ve put myself on a very serious media diet. Because I still in theory have access to near-infinite content on Medium, Wikipedia, YouTube. There are podcasts and videos galore I have not yet even dreamt of, and enough art and snark on Tumblr to fuel a galaxy.

But I put those apps in a folder, and so they might as well not exist.

This is an astonishing and true fact, and bears repeating: once I put an app in a folder, I might as well not have it, because I will not think of it unless a specific need arises (and how often do you have a specific need for Tumblr or YouTube, truly?) I theorize that hiding the icon from easy and habitual view allows me to subconsciously forget about the app as a category of activity I can participate in. Even where it used to be a habit! Where once I spent a lot of time visiting Google News, now I forget to open any of my half-dozen news apps. Likewise I forget about my RSS reader. I forget about the lesser social sites that didn’t make it into my dock. I forget about Duolingo, and the thought of playing games hardly crosses my mind on the iPad. 

The same goes for browser tabs. Where once I always had dozens open, now I keep it down to a manageable four or five, excepting specific research periods. iOS handles clicked links in such a way that you’re subtly nudged to finish reading an article before returning to the app that sent you there. Which means when I pop into my browser to see if there’s something I meant to read later, there’s... nothing. I did it already. 

Being bored on the internet sounds kind of terrible, but it is in fact a true and perfect blessing. It means nothing less than that I am reclaiming time that I had spent on the laptop idly clicking from one tab to another, trying to find something to do, or trying to trigger the memory of what I’d intended to get done. 

And the apps that almost haphazardly wound up in my dock or on my home screen, unfoldered, are the ones I’m spending more time in. Example: I do a lot of idle sketching now, a habit I’m pleased to come back to, since ProCreate is just... always right there, looking at me. Shockingly, my email inbox is the leanest it’s consistently been in... gosh, it must be a decade. I’m reorganizing my Dropbox folder structure, not because it’s any worse than it was in July, but because I’m in and out of the Dropbox app all day long.

That leads into a hypothesis that I’m testing now. Can I intentionally shape my days simply by rearranging my flipping home screen? Or a more specific test: If I put the Kindle app on my home screen, right there prominently in the corner, will I remember more often that reading is a thing to do, and accordingly read more books?

I can’t know for sure just yet, but since I moved the app into the light, I’ve read 50 pages more in a day than I did any other day in the last month. Signs point to yes.

Sooooooo in turn, the question becomes: what version of myself do I want to be? How do I wish my time usually looked? Which self do I want to be? Because all I need to do to become that person, it seems, is put the healthy apps a little closer to eye level.


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Awards, the Engines of Anxiety

If you were trying to come up with a system specifically meant to drive a set of writers mad, you couldn’t do a hair better than to set up a major industry award and then tell them they’re eligible this year. Every step of the process is beautifully calculated to create misery and self-doubt. Every one.

We’ve apparently begun talking about what we’ll be nominating for various genre literary awards next year — the Hugos and the Nebulas, most notably. Best of Year lists are going around, and never mind that we have several weeks of new releases to come. Starts earlier every year, doesn’t it? Just like Christmas.

I say to you with no exaggeration that I want to hide under a warm blanket and not come out again until it’s all decided.  I know from experience: no good can come of participating in this conversation, as someone who, in theory, has skin in the game.* Not for me, and not for many of my colleagues — maybe even most of them. 

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that writers are not the most emotionally stable and healthy group of human beings around! A lot of that is because of the nature of the work itself. The process of writing is incredibly personal and isolating, and the link between the work and any recognition is so small and tenuous that it may as well not even exist. Criticism of your creative output can feel like criticism of your deepest heart. It is the worst. It’s no wonder so many of us have various degrees of depression and anxiety.

Awards are, in theory, one of the ways to make up for it. We offer glory to those works we feel have extra merit, in order to encourage writers and honor their achievements.

The casualties, though, are not low. 

How Much Do They Love You? 

The emotional turmoil that awards cause begins early, as soon as the lists begin circulating. (Or, honestly, even earlier — since there are running reading lists kept up all year.) Let’s say that you, dear reader, have written a story this year, or perhaps a novel. Perhaps it was well-received. Perhaps one or two people have even said the A-word in talking to you about it.

Well, it’s only human to wonder if your work has made it onto any of those lists after all, and so perhaps you peek at a wiki or a spreadsheet or a reading list to see if your name is there on any of them.

Writer friends, never do this. Never. No good can come of it. There is no outcome from this action that leads to excellent mental health in the months this process takes.

But you look anyway (and by you, I of course mean me). Maybe your name is on one or more of the lists, and a seed of hope begins somewhere in you, that this could be your year. This hope is small and bright and hot, and you’re afraid of it, because you know that the more you hope, the greater your disappointment will be if it doesn’t come to pass. So you try as hard as you can to snuff it out and persuade yourself that really, truly, you don’t deserve it. You’re not worthy. It will never happen.

If your name isn’t there, that disappointment starts right away — because your brain lies to you in a hundred different ways at once, and somehow this omission becomes a proxy for your work not mattering, and how nobody loves you, everybody hates you, obviously your output is amateurish and weak, and my goodness, wasn’t it arrogant of you to even dream for a second that you might have produced a real contender? How dare you hope. How dare you look.

Then, when nominations come out, the same cycle repeats. The hope gets brighter and hotter and more frightening if you’re actually nominated; the disappointment is fiercer, here, if you were on those lists, and if you did think you had a fair shot at being recognized, but your name is nonetheless missing from any ballot. 

Winning and Losing

Let me tell you a secret. I’ve won a fair share of professional awards for my non-publishing work — more than fair. And yes, losing when you were so close is a grave disappointment.

Winning, though? That can really mess you up. (Especially if you’re very early in your career, and not yet accustomed to losing.) Because those lies your brain tells you when your name isn’t on a list are a faint shadow of the ones that happen after you win.

Suddenly the award means that from now on, people will expect a certain benchmark from you, and any future work that does not win as many awards is a step down — a grave disappointment. Never mind that it’s impossible to win every award for every work you write. Or perhaps you convince yourself that it was just a fluke — and again, people will be disappointed with you moving forward, when they find out what your work is really like ordinarily. Or perhaps it means that your best work is now behind you, and all you can look forward to is a sad decline into obscurity, no matter how hard you work.

I know this from hard experience. Many years ago, I worked on a non-publishing project that won buckets of awards. It was thrilling! ...Until I tried to start something new, and was buried under a false sense that it had to mean something.

This is a difficult problem to talk about, because it can sound like ingratitude for your recognition; a weird sort of complaining about a problem that other people wished they had. So you can’t really talk about it, or bring in your usual support networks to help you cope with it.

But. It was at least a year before I was able to work again without intense anxiety.  A year.

Does this mean I am against awards and don’t want to win one ever again? HA HA HA no, I wish I was so evolved, but I’m not. I am absolutely a mercenary careerist, and awards genuinely help your visibility and marketability forever. That’s part of the whole pernicious problem. If awards truly were meaningless, it would be much easier to ignore them. But they do mean something. That sweet, addictive external validation matters to your future prospects. 

So I want it. I won’t lie. I want it a lot. And no, if I get a nomination, I’m certainly not going to decline, be it this year or another year. But in the meanwhile? The best thing to do, for me and probably for you, too, is to step away from the whole conversation. You can’t control it. All you can do is try to keep working. Better and healthier to focus on that.

 

 * As I write this, I’m in the position of having written an eligible work that, yes, I think could be a contender this year. Or at least it was widely read and very well received? But I’ve spent months trying to argue myself into believing it’s impossible. Even saying “yes, I hope,” feels like unforgivable arrogance. Awards, man. They really mess you up.


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The Lie Every Social Network Tells

Let’s talk a little more about the problem of disentangling yourself from the possibly-democracy-destroying social networks that currently dominate public discourse.

Now that we’ve moved full-blast into a gig economy, one of the most frightening prospects of leaving social media is losing the network that keeps you afloat. Artists rely on their social graphs to spread the word when they have new work out, or when they need a new project. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills, to be sure, but a total lack of exposure means you’re definitely not selling any books (or games, or commissions, or...) Obcurity is the biggest problem early and even mid-career creators have to solve, because it doesn’t matter what heartbreaking works of genius you produce if nobody ever looks at them.

So sure, I could delete my Twitter account in a principled stand for what I believe in. But I’d be losing access to (as of this writing) 6,757 hypothetically human followers who have opted in to what I have to say. Gosh, that’s a lot of potential book sales to give up, isn’t it?

And yet.

Here’s the lie every social network is telling you: It’s your friend or follower counts. Your number of impressions and views. Your numbers of likes, faves, RTs, hearts.

We live in a world that wants to quantify everything, a kind of numeromancy meant to give us the feeling that we know and can control the future. Your resting heart rate and the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream become the entrails we read to know if we will die soon. Calories consumed and burned become a scale of virtue, weighing our moral worth. Likes are a way to scry the hearts of others, to know how much they love you.

Did I say yet that this is a lie? Because it’s a lie.

This is a problem advertisers have grappled with for decades. There is no way to measure the hearts of humankind, so we measure what we can and pretend it’s the same thing. We have a whole arcane set of practices arisen solely from trying to derive truths about what we can’t measure from the things we can: conversion rates, A/B testing, sentiment analysis.

These numbers we can see and know feel like money in the bank. But the dirty truth is that I can’t count on all 6,757 of those people to buy a book. To the contrary, I can count on the fact that they won’t — and if I sell that many of anything, most of those people won’t know a hoot about where to find me online.

On Twitter, I can’t even count on all of my followers to even see my promotional efforts, no matter how hard I dance. Honestly, I can’t count on all of them to even be human beings, or to still be active on Twitter anymore if they are. So the loss of value to me in leaving is far less than 6,757 book sales, multiplied by however many books over however many years Twitter is the place to be.

How much less? Who can say?

This is an even more complicated problem when it’s not a career issue, but a personal one. It is nonetheless the same problem. You can have five hundred friends on Facebook but nobody to call to feed your pets because you have to make an emergency trip out of town. You can have five thousand Twitter followers and nobody who checks up on you at the right moment because they know you’ve been having a tough time these days, and they just want to see if you’re okay.

It’s possible that the 51 people who have subscribed to get my blog posts in email (and perhaps also the couple-hundred who read me in RSS)  are all the people on Twitter I could count on in the first place, as audience members, or as colleagues, or as friends.

We have a lot of ways to say this same thing. The map is not the territory. Quantity isn’t quality. And you know the alleged Mark Twain quote, that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.   

Numbers can be real, and yet not true. Let’s not fool ourselves. And let’s not allow ourselves to be fooled. 


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You Don’t Have To

I’m exhausted and on a course of antibiotics. Sometimes you get a sign from your body, and this is one for me. It’s definitely time for me to engage in a little self-care: refilling the well that good work comes from, and maintaining this frail meat shell without which I can do nothing at all. I’m enjoying the thought of wrapping up some fairly small pieces of work and then spending some time reading books, playing video games, napping, swimming.

And yet. Today, it seems, is the first day of NaNoWriMo.  As always happens, this is the point in the year where I panic, because though I’ve written six novelettes, two alternate reality games, and at least a half-dozen other projects, somehow none of that counts. Not to the part of my brain that wants to, you know, write novels.

It’s not too late to fix that, hisses a voice in my ear. You can do NaNoWriMo. You can start today.  

This voice is toxic. This is the voice of the American Work Ethic, for which no amount of work is ever enough, and to whom any rest at all is inexcusable idleness. And it’s all lies.

Friends, this has been a difficult year for many of us. We’ve dealt with the regular stresses of life: loved ones passing, jobs lost and found, heartbreaks large and small. And this has been a landmark year for stressors we aren’t accustomed to: hurricanes and fires, terrifying politics, the quiet possibility of nuclear war.

Be kind to yourself, whatever that should mean to you. If it means that NaNoWriMo is not for you this year,  then I congratulate you on your self-knowledge, and I hope you can spend the dusk of the year on something else, something that nurtures you so you can bloom brighter when the time is right.

You’re enough already. Believe it, and act accordingly.


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