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Brian J. W. Lee is a writer. When he's not writing, he's plotting to plunge the world in a deep chasm of terror, darkness and screams. Sorry, did I get carried away?

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Let's Talk Writing: The Four Horsemen

As it is right now, I believe this period of time to be the most stressful for me where writing, publishing and my literary career is concerned. Every factor that could impede my progress seemed to have appeared, swarming me from all corners of the world.

I call them the Four Horsemen.

Not the kind of guests you'd want to bring home for dinner...

We all know the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Pestilence, War, Famine, Death. Those were pretty much the bane of human civilisation.

Now I assert that writers have their own Four Horsemen to fear, and they will usher in a dark age of no-writing if they succumb to them. These are what I am currently fighting against now, and my only weapon is my laptop, which lags sometimes when I play videos on Youtube or even open up LibreOffice:

The First Horseman: People

Astride a many-coloured horse with seven heads, People, the many-faced, many-limbed horseman of a writer's doom will watch you, follow you wherever you go, playing tricks on you rather than running you down outright.

While it might sound anti-social, yes, people do become a liability when it comes to writing sometimes, and it can get really bad if several of them decided to pile on top of you, knowingly or unknowingly. Bosses could hate you for the codes you live by, and berate you if you're not a robot but a human being who needs a break every now and then, and you happen to use it to put down a few sentences. Family and friends might discourage you from even attempting to write professionally. They might distract you, not recognising the writing space you need.

Then there's all that bullying and harassing and rapey and hurty and murdery things a select few of them loves to engage in. You certainly won't be penning down some words when you're stuck in some madman's dungeon.

You're not even safe from other writers. They will have their own agendas. Some might be over-competitive jerks who want to bring down the competition (read: YOU), while others will unknowingly destroy you with bad attitude when they thought they are helping when you wouldn't follow their prescribed path to success. In fact, writers are the worst of them if they choose to destroy you, as they will turn their mastery of the language against you, making sure that their words will cause maximum harm while the intention will be too well hidden from those not in the know.

Avoiding people entirely and becoming a monk on a mountain is not the answer, however. You'd have to use your discretion to avoid the People Horseman, while bringing those who are not affiliated with it into your circle.

The Second Horseman: Establishment

Clopping heavily to the forefront, man and horse completely encased in chain-mail and plates with crossbows and swords and lances at its disposal, Establishment looks on from a distance, waiting for you to wince or show any other signs of weakness. It will charge when you do.

It is a known fact that most governments, if not all, will never let anything that seeks to criticise it, or poke at it in any way, fly. But while the few hundred governmental bodies of the world are popular targets when it comes to accusations of censorship, they are by no means the only thing standing between the writer and his art.

Society itself has conventions, some right and there for a good reason. Others, well, not so much. And some of them don't like your kind snooping around their barns. The mere fact that your country may be inclined towards certain genres may be a problem enough, as it means you would have to write to that market or risk failure. But complementing these everyday folks, artistic conventions could easily limit writers just as much. Genres are as limiting as they are liberating - in my research, I see Christian Fiction as suffering the worst of it, but that's another story altogether, best exemplified by this article: 8 Problems in the Christian Fiction Genre (And How to Fix Them)

The point is, any establishment larger than any one person could spell trouble for the writer, especially when they are actively trying to stick their nose in your affairs when they know no better.

That said, an isolationist measure against the Establishment Horseman is not out of the question, and if you must write about the Establishment, the use of analogies, metaphors, ambiguous language, or being neutral are some of the best weapons you can have to stave off any attacks from them. Guerilla tactics in an asymmetrical theatre of war works for a good reason.

The Third Horseman: Poverty

Floating on impossibly thin legs, a starved horse came forward, bearing an equally skeletal-looking rider, gazing at you hungrily with eyes sunken deep and shriveled up, willing for you to join it. The ground moves forever towards it, and you have to fight to move away from it. Forever, and ever, and ever.

Poverty, or even the effort to avoid poverty, has never been buddies with writing, or anything resembling art and science for that matter. It's a story as old as humanity itself. When your stomach is rumbling and your mouth parched, all you'll be able to think about is food and water. When the day that you'll begin starving is just around the corner, you'll feel just as threatened. There's no denying it; this is how we're programmed, and we're animals first and humans second.

Heck, by the end of my tenure in my telco company, I'll probably have around $2,400 saved up. That's not a lot, not by a long shot, but it does allow me to survive for 4 months if I stretch the money a little.

In the modern world, this is complicated. For me, I've still got my educational debt to worry about. I've got the economy to worry about, and I have to keep hoping that it won't cut off my income stream from whatever day job I've chosen. In pursuing writing, I'm spending money too. I have to read and consume as much, if not more than anyone, and that costs money. Being a self-publisher, I have to spend hundreds, thousands in the long run, to have even the remotest chance of success.  And there are people worse off than me - the fact that they could write and self-publish despite suffering such colossal headaches is admirable.

It is still not enough to stave off the lingering, animal feeling of survival first, thinking later. Writers will have to fight this all the time, and avoid the temptation of giving it all up for a stable, if uncompromisingly anti-art job. And there are people worse off than me.

The best advice I can give is to identify the best job that will give you maximum salary for minimal participation in terms of time. This is not to say that you should slack - no, hard work and smart work is a must. For me, I will be embarking on a career in tutoring and freelancing in T-minus 3 weeks, which will reduce time spent on work by nearly twice, or at least 33% if counting in commuting time. I targeted tutoring because the hourly rate is high, and I seem to be good at it.

Financial management is an important tool too. Minimise your spending. Don't buy unnecessary things. Don't be one of those guys who would spend nearly all of his paycheck per month. On my side, my monthly expenditure is around $800 at most, against a monthly income of about $1800 after deducting social security. That leaves much for investing into my books, amongst other personal things.

The Fourth Horseman: Self

A sickeningly beautiful and dazzling steed meandered on a bend of the road towards you, carrying a person in silver armour. His face is obscured by a great helm that he wore, an ambiguous metal face halved by comedy and tragedy where his true face was. Riding right up to you, he dismounted, and lifted the mask, showing a face truly terrible.

Your own.

He pulled his sword out of its scabbard, but you are unwilling to draw yours.

In the end, your greatest enemy is yourself. It is a common saying, and I fancy that it is as old as dirt. Save for the gravest and terrible of dangers in the flesh, you will ultimately be responsible for some of the pits you fall into, and the biggest problem is... Well, you can't run away from yourself. You can cut off your limbs, shave off your skin and remove all your organs, but even if you're just a brain in a jar, you'll still be with yourself.

See, there are so many things you can do to yourself that would hinder your writing. A moment of laziness at night while you're supposed to be writing could lull you to sleep. A moment of overconfidence could breed a whole slew of mistakes, and they will crawl all over your books like worms and flies and other unpleasant pests and parasites. Dismiss a mistake or a flaw, and it could snowball into a bad review, which would then snowball into poor sales, and then a failed book - which could end your career. A slippery slope, I know, but even a tiny chance of career ruin should have deterred you from any moments of weakness - except it just doesn't happen away sometimes, because we are flawed human beings.

People could let us down, countries could fail us, and the economy could crap on us, but when you give up because of one thing or the other, you'd have stuck the final nail in the coffin yourself.

Discipline, discipline, discpline. That's the main tool you've got against yourself. Be a bit masochistic. Hell, strip yourself naked in an air-conditioned room and write while you're standing if that's what it takes. Ernest Hemingway did that, and it works for him.

Develop a routine that's hard to break. Psyche yourself up everyday, remind yourself of what's at stake. At this, I've gone a bit too far, as I promised myself that I'd kill myself if I've run out of money and couldn't make anymore. That's a great motivation for writing, I guess. Yeah, maybe I'll go see a psychiatrist.


So there you have it - I've been running from four Horsemen who've been chasing me around everywhere I go, and it's been especially pronounced for these past few weeks.

I'll have some important news after a few days.

Stay tuned!

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