Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Future We Choose is Always Chosen Now.

I submitted my first story of 2016 this week.  It was on Thursday, for an anthology I'd been invited to submit a story to about what living in cities might be like within the next few decades.  The deadline to submit was 11:59 PM that night.  I got mine in with exactly 3 hours and 30 minutes to spare.  
It's a decent story.  I liked what I did.  I feel good about it.  And I resisted the urge to tinker with it and "make it better" in the time before the deadline.  I feel good about that, too.  
And now, it's time to move on to something else.  Yes! 

Uh...  Yeah...

My first thought when I emailed my story off was that this was the perfect time to set into motion a writing production schedule that I've always wanted to have.  Year after year, I've made the New Year's resolution to write and submit a story each month of the year.  Twelve new stories submitted by December.  
And year after year, I've come up short.  Last year, I am very ashamed to say, I did not submit a single new story at all.  Period.  None.  I can give myself the excuse that I had decided to focus on writing my novel, which took me until August to do, and then tried working on spec-script for an animated series a friend of mine is working on, which became permanently stalled when the production company changed what they were looking for AND decided they weren't going to accept unsolicited scripts any more.  
I could take that excuse, but it would still feel like one.  I know how I felt when I realized the fact of my non-submission status for last year.  "How can you call yourself a 'professional' writer?  How can you say you're aspiring to be one with a year like that?"
That was me speaking to myself in case you couldn't tell by the tone of my voice. 
But now, I've submitted.  I'm back in the saddle.  I have eleven more months ahead of me.  I can do this.  Now's the time to start.  In fact, I've ALREADY started.  All I'll be doing now is carrying on, continuing the momentum.  Striving along the path I've set for myself.  Or, using an analogy I used in a previous blog posting, digging away in the tunnel toward the future I'm carving for myself.  
All I have to do this weekend is pick the next project I'll be working starting Monday.  
Insert here a moment of silence, followed by the chirp-chirp-chirping of crickets in the dark.  
I am worried.  I recognize this as the first obstacle I need to overcome, so I'm saying it clearly, here and now, to identify it as such.  I'm worried that I might chose the wrong project to put my time into.  That, come February 29th, I'll be staring at my screen, no where near ready or willing to send something off, with the sense of someone feeling his house about to slide down the hill in a mudslide while he's still in it.  
Silly?  Yes.  But true?  As to what I'm worried about, yes.  
I have two basic choices here.  Pick something new.  A brand new idea for a story that I haven't tried writing yet.  Use its freshness as a shiny ball bouncing over the grass, with me being the puppy bounding after it.  
Or, the other choice, pick something I set aside to work on my novel.  A story where I've got a head start.  A rough draft to work from.  Something where finishing it to the point of getting a draft I can submit should be, SHOULD BE, I SAY, easier to do.  Something I could get done in two or three weeks and give me a head start on the project after that.  
If I could submit another story, my second story of the year, in that time frame, instead of worrying about sliding off the hill, the rumbling I would be feeling then would be that of the rocket I'd strapped to my ambition taking me up into the stratosphere of my creative dreams.  
Overblown?  Yes.  But a more positive image to have?  Certainly.  
As it is, I have three projects to choose from, one from the first category, two from the second.  Which one would be the best one, though, is making me turn in circles, like the previously alluded to puppy discovering its tale and leaving the shiny ball in the grass by its feet.  
The idea stems from my most recently published story, Robot Boss, which appeared in  Analog Magazine's March 2015 issue.  Since writing Robot Boss I've been thinking a lot about the increasing degree of automation in our lives, and what it could eventually do to us.  
The idea I have is set far into the future, in a time when EVERYTHING is automated.  Humans do nothing but exist.  The machines built by the machines built by the machines and computers we originally designed and built do all the things we were doing before, including sending out probes to explore and recover resources from outer space.  Humans have become something akin to gut bacteria, forming biomes inside the living, sentient ships traveling through space.  What would this future look like to someone with a perspective more like ours, an astronaut revived from his stasis pod a hundred years later than anticipated for instance?  
The other two possible projects are things I've worked on already.  One is a story about a man stranded on an alien world, an "info-pirate" come there to steal data that could be reproduced and sold in human space, who was abandoned for unknown reasons by his crew.  He now faces the choice of trying to survive on the planet until another human ship comes to the world, or trying to get a ride from a strange and dangerous looking aliens that have recently landed.  
This story was the one I was working on when I made the decision to get my novel rewritten and into the hands of alpha readers.  I recall thinking that I'd finally worked out the technical kinks in it when I shifted my focus to my novel.  
The other possible project is a bit more ambitious, and daunting.  
It's a story centered around the last days of Edgar Allan Poe and what "really" happened.  In case you're not aware, in September of 1849, Poe left Richmond to go to New York to secure funds to start his own literary magazine, which he planned to call "The Stylus."  Three days later, after missing his New York appointment, he was found in Baltimore.  Staggering about, possibly drunk, possibly having been beaten, wearing someone else's clothing, incoherently mumbling about someone named, "Mr. Reynolds," who did not correspond to any acquaintance of his known to anyone.  The doctor that oversaw his care until his death described the cause as a "swelling of the brain."  
This was the story I submitted to have reviewed at the WorldCon in Montreal in 2009.  The editor and professional writer that reviewed it pretty much panned it.  But the editor, who I discovered later had edited a collection of stories inspired by the work of Poe, pointed to one passage in my story where, she said, I'd "nailed it."  She said that it read "exactly as if" Poe had written it, and it was the passage that made her hope I would continue working on the piece.  
Is seven years too long to make that hope come true.  It is the story I imagine winning a Hugo and/or Nebula for writing.  Is that reason, that weight of anticipation, a reason to give it another try, or reason to set it aside and get my desire process under my built.  
Choices suck.  It renews my wish for life to have a rewind button.  I'd use it to pick one of these projects to work on for a month, rewind, pick the second, rewind again, then the third, THEN go back and pick the one that comes out the best.  
But, we can't do that.  There's no way to know which would be the best choice to work on now.  I could find myself on February 29th, pounding my desktop with both fists, staring at the gibberish on my screen that is nowhere near ready to be sent to anyone, and THAT STILL MIGHT BE THE BEST RESULT OF THE THREE.  
But I would never know it.  Even thinking this way assumes there is a "right answer" to questions like this.  All I can see in my particular tunnel is the rock face before me, while hefting the pickax of my decision in hand. 
Maybe my first choice I should make is to just accept that part of life for what it is, and pick whatever I think would be the most fun to work on now.  


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