Mental pollution

I’m happy to report that I have safely completed my travels — twenty-six hours door to door, fifteen of it spent on three different planes.  I should’ve written yesterday, but sometimes life happens.  In this case, a dead car battery and a two-mile walk in 100 degree plus temperatures to get it all sorted.  Good times!

So, between jet lag and crowded airports (LAX, anyone?) I’m not at my witty best.  Which means I’m turning to one of the experts instead.

I ran across this post by Jeff VanderMeer the other day called “Toward Prevention of Brain Scarring” and I have to say I agree.  (It’s why I bookmarked it, after all.)

A few quotes for the link-averse:

“…the fact is that there is so much contradictory information and advice on the internet, so many emphatically stated viewpoints about issues related to writing, that you can freeze yourself in your writing just by being exposed to too much—by internalizing…everything.”

“…you wind up wasting a lot of mental effort that could go to the writing circling back over issues that in the grand scheme of things aren’t useful to your writing.”

“For those who say we should engage with the world, I would say: I indeed want to engage with the world, but I’m less and less sure I want to engage with the narrow sliver of it represented by the resounding confidence of the majority of opinion pieces out there in the e-sphere, on any side of an issue.”

“Certainty is not useful to fiction, and I am always wary of those who are certain.”

There’s more to the article than just these snippets (so READ it), but I’m going to blab a bit about the ones I liked the most.

I was going to do a general rant about how much information is on the Internet and yet how little of it has positive value and how we risk polluting our minds with garbage if we spend too much time surfing around reading the crap that’s out there, but I think I’m going to go in a different direction on this one…

I’ve mentioned before that I lurk a few writing forums and I’ve even linked to discussions I see there.  But I’m very hesitant about actually joining any of the forums.  For a few reasons:

First, I think it’s too easy to spend time talking about writing and not actually writing.  Even this blog poses that danger.  But the fact is that I blog while I’m “on call” for my day job, which means I’m not using my writing time to blog.  I’m using my “be available on the computer in case my boss calls” time.  (I can stop mid blog post if needed, but am very unhappy when I have to stop mid-scene, so I don’t write during those times.)

If I were to start participating in one of the forums, I’d feel an obligation to continue participating in discussions even “after hours” and it’s quite possible that others would pull me into conversations or bug me if I tried to maintain appropriate boundaries.  That’s not the most effective use of my time.  (Unless, of course, I want to sell a book on how to write, in which case, the more I can convince people that I know what I’m talking about, the more my books will sell.)

Second, while I think it’s great to form community and find a source of support for an effort that many others don’t understand, I think it can also lead down a path of converging ideas or “camps.”  When I started writing I really had no knowledge or opinion on self-publishing versus traditional publishing.  But, spend enough time interacting on certain forums and I think you’d find yourself pushed towards one or the other when the answer may be “it depends.”

Not to mention “idea bleed.”  (I just made that term up.)  I have no idea if these stories came out of a workshop or interacting with other writers or what, but when I started reading through recent short stories I ran across some common ideas  — like “sentient mother ship” or “the ordinary in the midst of apocalypse” — that I don’t think would just occur by nature.  So, since writers grow ideas from what they see and hear and experience, the more you interact with other writers, the more I think this idea bleed occurs.  Which means you have to be an even better writer to succeed.

Third, everyone has an opinion. And some people are very certain of that opinion.  Even when they’re dead wrong.  And if you enter into a debate with that person, chances are you’ll go in one of two directions — you’ll agree with them or you’ll disagree with them.  It’s very difficult to have a conversation with a rabid fanatic on an issue and maintain an “it depends” attitude.  Whereas, if you’re reading what they write and not engaging, you can think “well, I think they have a point about the use of past perfect progressive, but they completely missed this other aspect of the question…”

So, while I value the on-line communities I’ve found and am thankful to them for the insights and lessons I’ve found there, I hesitate to actually participate in them myself.  There are only so many hours in the day and only so much that our brains can process, and in this world of too much information and too much access, we have to be vigilant in protecting ourselves or risk getting lost in the muck.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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