The Patreon campaign is live now and I have posted a free short story there. The story, Gnaw, was the beginning of all things Antitopia. I encourage you to head over and read it, and to consider becoming a patron.
Below is a short story I wrote last week utilizing the method I mentioned in last week's post. I was staring at the blank page, unsure what to write. I took a big gulp of my coffee and choked on it. The scent of coffee is associated with many memories, but the olfactory sense combined with the flush of liquid heat in your sinuses is a union of displeasure I have locked to one specific series of events in my life. Nothing So Bad as the Cure began with that one word; Coffee.
For your reading pleasure...
Nothing So Bad as the Cure
by M. Holcombe (2019)
Coffee never saved me. I had hope the dark brown liquid would fix what ailed me. Like all things hoped for, it drowned me instead. An accidental inhalation of exhaustion’s eliminator transformed my supposed savior into a weapon. A million stars danced before my eyes: my vision filled with electric purple-white.
I felt nothing for an eon. Vague echoes of off-time words and wails filled my consciousness. My body tingled like the static on an old television. Whatever the chemical soup was they were pumping through me these months, it made me weak. The disease tried to kill me, the doctors too, but my end was to come from trying to talk and drink at the same time.
Oxygen makes you cold when forced. The white fades and the world returns surrounded by auras of chaos and spectrum. The faces around you take on alien proportions. Around your eyes the universe stretches and bends. I want a blanket and a nap.
Who was I talking to?
The tumor’s tendrils had wrapped around my spine. It not only tried to choke me, it tried to incapacitate me. I had become a never-ending cycle of tubes, injections, and vomit. The tubes pumped the soup through my system. The soup attacked all the rapidly reproducing cells. This meant no new neural pathways could form. My brain short-circuited often.
Today was mean nurse day. She wasn’t mean so much as blunt, but she hinted often that her patients were burdensome. She laughed at me as she shoveled me back into the bed. I felt the rough knit and familiar pink blanket press down on my thinned body as she tucked me in. She mumbled something, and I faded into the warm black of sleep.
Chemo-dreams are always off. I dreamed a world filled with slanted static. It reminded me of wheat fields on a windy day and smelled of old pennies. A woman I used to know spoke only in hisses as she drove a car through the chaos. I dubbed the place “The Chaff” upon waking.
The phlebotomist woke me to drain more blood. She walked the line between symbiote and parasite: I knew she served a purpose, but no one ever told me what it was. She survived by sucking my blood and delivering it to some lab. This time she hit something weird and blood spewed from my arm. She didn’t even notice until I said something. One has to admire the clinical indifference of mosquitoes.
Several hours and a million episodes of some “cops and lawyers” show later, the nice nurse comes in. I’m still covered in blood but she shows nothing. I gave her the whole story about the resident leech. She told me they were cutting me loose in the morning and grabbed a washcloth to clean my arms and face. She called in housekeeping to swap out the bloody sheets and gave me a clean gown.
The lady from housekeeping shrieked when she came in and ran back to the nurses’ station. I was pulling out my eyelashes. The nurse ran in and asked me what was wrong. I showed her the lashes, and she giggled. We shouldn’t do that in front of the normal folks. I wanted them to stop falling out into my eyes. Housekeeping sent up a different person to complete the task. He was funny, at least.
Hospitals don’t let you sleep. The night before you leave is the worst. They have to check and double check they didn’t miss something. Every hour someone comes in to check something new. When the sun comes up, I stare out the window and watch the complex grow bright from the shadow plane. My friends arrive and fill me in on what I’ve missed at home. The nurse shuttles me to the front in a wheelchair and gives me all the same instructions she always gives. In two weeks I’ll go get the shot I always get. I’ll come in if I get a fever. I’ll rest. Promise.
The first thing we do is get hash browns and coffee at a crappy southern diner that does everything right. The faces are familiar and foreign. I am aware they are my friends, but their humanity escapes me. I’m a stranger in my skin and in their company. The cup rises to my face and take a sip of the stiff, brown liquid. Words try to come, but coffee has other ideas.
The scent of old pennies and burned dirt wafts from the cup. A million tiny stars dance across their faces. The world fills with bright purple-white. Coffee never saved me.
As a young writer I found it difficult to start (and finish) a story. I often found that "motivation" or "inspiration" were to blame, as they were avoiding me. Such cruel and elusive creatures, those two.
They are liars. They lie and convince you to possess them so you will avoid doing what you must do. But writing, like taking a leak, is an unavoidable function. An unmistakable signal provided by your body informs you to pop in the restroom and relieve yourself. You do not wait for a subject or an opening line, you head to the toilet. You get the job done.
The wait for motivation / inspiration is the urinary tract infection of the writing bladder. They provide false signals that you need to go and do. These signals continue until you do something about what is wrong with your body. Coincidentally, the best thing for curing writer's block is to write.
Many exercises are available online to help you practice the craft of writing. My favorite is to write one word. A simple task, no? Yet I found it insurmountable. "What if I pick the wrong word?" I said.
I wrote for myself. For whom, then, would it be the wrong word? And here we hit on the key to "writer's block."
I am no stranger to anxiety. Even now, writing this, I am sweating. The adrenaline thuds through me at the prospect someone will read this and somehow "assess" me as a person. Anxiety held me from writing for many years. I thought one opinion mattered more than my own.
What brought me back to the page was something Stephen King wrote in "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft."
"By the time I was fourteen ... the nail on my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and kept on writing.
This ground at me. I found other reasons not to write (too old, too male, too busy, etc.) but none, not one, stood the acid test. Aminatta Forna (The Memory of Love, The Hired Man) published her first book, Ancestor Stones, in her early forties. Steig Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Frank Herbert (Dune, et al.), and Roald Dahl (Matilda, et al.) were male. Beth Miller (The Good Neighbour, When We Were Sisters) is a mother of four. I could find a better excuse.
I found in my old friend Time such an excuse. Mr. King states he writes 2000 words per day. What a pile of words! I didn't have time for that.
However, my writing bladder was filling up. The urge to do was stronger. I had to spill something onto the page. Instead, I procrastinated further and started doing some math.
I took a typing test. As it happens, I can type around 25 words per minute. That means if I sit uninterrupted for 80 minutes, I can type 2000 words. Damn. It also means I can type 250 words in ten minutes. That's an entire manuscript page.
If I type one manuscript page per day, every day, I have a novel in less than a year. I broke my excuse. I have ten minutes a day. As a stay-at-home dad, I have at least that. But what if I write four pages a day? 365,000 words after a year!
I knew I needed a goal, but I also knew I needed a limit. I don't want to burn out anymore than I want to be mute. I set myself a window: 500 - 2000 words per day. This allows me to do the things I need and want and provides me an achievable goal.
But how do I start? A single word. And I doubt it is the correct word every single time. I am a harsh critic, my worst troll, and my cruelest commentator. If I am to reach my goal, I must trust the single word I begin with is, if not the best word, the right one. When I meet my goal, I must trust I have established something.
You can write, and you have a story. Set a goal even if it is just fifteen minutes a day broken into five-minute segments. The story will come. The first run doesn't need perfection. It doesn't even need to be good. But you cannot edit what isn't on the page.
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As we commend another long year to ash, we welcome the promise of the oncoming days. The new year is a time of promise and caution for many, so we look forward with wary eyes and glance backward to ensure the demise of the previous days.
For my family and I, the previous twelve months were filled with chaos, madness, and joy. We spent the first six bursting through the barrier of a rat and mold infested rental property owned by an absentee landlord. It was slow and difficult, but we made it. I write this from the comfort of a long fought for home, one we can say is truly our own.
For me, the last six months have been amazing. I’ve been writing again, 150,000 words in that time, which fills me and drains me at the same time. I published the first part of Artificial on vocal.media which received far more attention than I thought it would. (If you haven’t read it yet, head over to Worlds page.) The new year brings more words, more ideas, and more projects.
The Patreon campaign will go live either the 15th of January or February, depending on some personal matters. I like the platform because it provides a more engaging environment for interaction with readers without being inundated by trolls and naysayers. I have enough of those in my head, no need for more on social media.
Next week I will post here about writing goals. I don’t want to turn this into a blog about writing tips, but I wish to write about things for which I have passion. Some weeks, I may gab about artificial intelligence, ghosts, or DNA manipulation. Others I’ll say my piece about writing, yarn, or who knows what.
May the new year find you well and may we all find our path, whatever it may be, with enough struggle to keep us sharp and enough ease to make it rewarding.
First flu/cold of winter has been successfully fought off. It certainly made the rounds, and I'm pretty sure it tried to take me out. The kids did great, but honestly I'm a puss with flu and cold stuff, so I just had to plug away and write through the fevers.
Christmas was pretty tense, it has been a pretty tight year, but we managed to do well by the kids, gift-wise.One of them got a lite-brite which was one of my favorites as a kid. Imagine my shock when I learned they blink now! I had a static bulb and a bunch of construction paper to stab, but now they come with a multi-function LED bulb and thinner paper. The passage of time is so cool.
At any rate, I hope this season has found you well. I got myself some writing tools and fluids (:D) to help the process. It is my fondest wish that you and yours have made it through the hard part and that it is downhill from here. Be well, and may the upcoming year be everything that you put into it.
The past week has been unpleasant, but survivable. Between multiple humans with fevers and nausea and a shoestring budget looking like a distant paradise, very little has been accomplished. I was able to re-order a few parts of The House at Highgate which had been bothering me, though I still need to rewrite those sections with the changes. The kids are getting better and fevers seem to be under control, so we're just hoping mom and our oldest don't get whatever horror this thing is over the holiday week.
However you celebrate or spend this time of year, I and the Collective hope all finds you healthy and well into the new year and beyond!
Antitopia is the place where my worlds collide. From transgendered ghosts to artificial entities bent on the destruction of humanity, everything connects here: this world against itself.
As each story grows, the Artificial universe expands. Please join me on this journey and enjoy your time here.
Be sure to check my patreon campaign for updates and new stories!