2017, Word Counts and Writing Process

Today I wrote 1,850 words on Head On, my novel which is coming out next year. In any year previous to 2017, 1,850 words from me in a single day would be an okay day — slightly below my general average of 2,000 or so that I can reliably pump out on a daily basis, but not so far below that I would worry about it. The 2k daily goal is fungible. Some days I’ll get 1,850 words, some days I’ll get 2,300, and over time it all comes out in the wash. I get a novel done in roughly three or four months, a span of time which leaves room for false starts, snipping out dead ends, and otherwise revising and fixing the novel as I go along.

Here in 2017, 1,850 words on the novel in a day — 1,85o usable words — is an actual goddamned miracle. I started Head On in January with the plan to be done in the first half of the year, to leave the rest of the year open for other projects, including getting a head start on the next book in the Interdependency series. And here we are in October and I’m still not done, and generally speaking I’ve been lucky if I’ve gotten a few hundred usable words out of a writing day. I have never had as hard a time writing a novel as I have had with this one.

Not because this particular book is hard to write. The novel, which is the sequel to Lock In, is complicated — it’s got a mysterious death and lots of twisty and turny bits — but I’ve done complicated before. Complicated is not inherently difficult to write. It just takes attention to detail, which normally I’m able to do just fine. When I write on it — when I have those stretches of being able to write — it all works. The plot flows well, the characters are doing their thing, and everything chugs along. What I’m writing is good. There’s just so much less of it than usually happens for me.

I’m not trying to be mysterious about what it is about 2017 that is different. The answer is obvious: Trump is president, and he’s a peevish bigoted incompetent surrounded by the same, and he’s wreaking havoc on large stretches of the American experience, both in his own person and by the chaos he invites. But to say “well, Trump,” is not really to give an answer with regard to what’s different. We’ve had terrible presidents before — George W. Bush springs to mind — and yet my ability to create work was not notably impacted. When Dubya was in office I wrote five novels. The Dubya era was a crappy time for America (recall the wars and the Great Recession) but from the point of view of productivity, it was just fine for me.

The thing is, the Trump era is a different kind of awful. It is, bluntly, unremitting awfulness. The man has been in office for nine months at this point and there is rarely a week or month where things have not been historically crappy, a feculent stew of Trump’s shittiness as a human and as a president, his epically corrupt and immoral administration, and the rise of worse elements of America finally feeling free to say, hey, in fact, they do hate Jews and gays and brown people. Maybe other people can focus when Shitty America is large and in charge, but I’m finding it difficult to do.

Here’s one way to put it: Twelve years ago, when Hurricane Katrina hit and the US Government flubbed its response and hundreds died, I was so angry and upset that I almost vomited in sadness and anger. It’s not an exaggeration, by the way — I literally felt like throwing up for a couple days straight. I eventually had to write “Being Poor” because it was either do that or go crazy. That was a week of feeling generally awful, and it wrecked me for another week after that. It took two weeks for me to get back on track with the novel I was writing at the time.

Got it? Okay, listen: 2017 has been me feeling like I felt when Katrina hit every single fucking month of this year.

Because, well. Pick a month, guys. Every month of 2017 has been a treat. Travel bans, white supremacists marching, awful health care repeals that just wouldn’t die, and not one, not two, but three historically massive hurricanes and the scouring of Puerto Rico. Russia. Fucking Russia, man. Not to mention Spicer, Scaramucci, Flynn, Price, Bannon, Gorka and the rest of that ridiculous cast. Any one of those is enough to get me (and not just me, lots of people) spun up and distracted. And it’s not just any one of these things. It’s that all of these things keep on happening. When you’re already spun up, it doesn’t take all that much more energy to stay spun up and distracted.

Well, just unplug! Well, see. Here’s the thing about that: I have. And I’ve found out it doesn’t really work like it used to. The world gets in anyway, because the world is in worse shape and wants you to know. It’s not just a matter of unplugging from social media, although it does help to get away from that. But short of building a Faraday cage around my house and then never, ever leaving it, the news of the day arrives.

Now, I want to be clear: It’s not just the news. It really is also me. I have never not been politically engaged — remember I wrote an opinion column when I worked in newspapers, and that I was writing here on Whatever for years before Old Man’s War was published. It’s hard for me to disengage; more than, I suspect, many other people. In a very real sense, this is part of who I am and what I do. I find it difficult to walk away from it, because I know it doesn’t stop just because I’m not paying attention to it.

(And also, while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the fact that even if it is hard for me to tune this shit out, I could tune it out, with relatively little penalty to me. In Trump’s America, if you’re a straight white rich dude, none of his bullshit is aimed at you personally. Meanwhile lots of people I know can’t tune it out, because the bullshit is aimed right at them. It’s not accurate to say I feel guilt about this. It is accurate to say that I feel uncomfortable not standing with my friends and others who don’t have the luxury I have, of tuning out when it’s inconvenient to be tuned in. Note also this is also about me — I know folks who have to tune out in order to stay outside of a depression spiral, and I encourage them to do so. This about my own struggle with this stuff, not anyone else’s.)

What 2017 has been doing for me is making me realize that I can’t do work in the same way I used to. It’s too hard to tune out what’s going on in the world, and because of it I have to make some changes — to my workflow, to my understanding of what’s a good writing day, and in allocating time to get work done. In effect, I have to learn how to change my swing in order to work effectively in this chaotic new environment. It’s taken me longer to figure this out than I would have liked; I’ve spent a lot of time this year trying to get make the old workflow function rather than reconfiguring my process to the new facts on the ground. Part of this was, simply, hoping things would settle down and get back to normal. But it’s October 2017 and it’s time to face the fact that, at least as far as my writing process goes, the old “normal” is gone.

Why am I talking about this right now? Basically, because I know it’s not just me. I know a lot of writers have seen their process take a hit here in 2017. It’s hard to focus when the world is on fire, and with novelists in particular, I suspect that sometimes it’s hard to focus when you’ve got the suspicion that your fiction is almost frivolous in the context of what’s going on right now. Well, and maybe it is. But, speaking as someone who spent an hour retweeting pet pictures today to break up the horror of mass shooting news in people’s tweetstreams, sometimes frivolity helps. And for all writers (and probably other creative people as well), knowing that you’re not the only one having a fucked-up world messing with your process might make you feel less alone.

(Yes, yes, Scalzi, solidarity with writers and all, but what does this mean for Head On? From the reader point of view: Nothing. The book will be written in ample time for the April release date. And it will be excellent — like I said earlier, what I’m writing is good. It’s just slower this time.)

So, yeah, writers: this gig is harder here in 2017. It’s not just you. And I feel you. I really do.

153 Comments on “2017, Word Counts and Writing Process”

  1. Also, to the person who will inevitably note that I wrote 1,500 words to talk about writing 1,850 words: Yes, you’re very clever to point that out.

  2. I am glad it’s not just me. I’m a slow writer even in a really good year, and lately I’ve been feeling like slow doesn’t even begin to describe it. I feel like I’m writing backwards, unwriting, everything evaporates.

  3. It’s not just writers, there’s a weight on so many of us. I have to assume that there’s some inestimable drag on the economy that we will find out about later. Feel for you, brother, and I feel for all of us who have to listen to this shit-gibbon dedicate trophies to his own incompetence.

  4. I am not advocating a position, or offering advice, or saying “you should…”. I will, however, say what I’d be doing right now, if I were you. (Had I the flexibility of being self employed and no child in the elementary school). The way 2017 has been treating my own psyche has made me realize that I would prefer to carefully and decisively disengaged from most of the world right now – in a quiet villa somewhere in Tuscany or southern Spain, given the resources, but more likely a cabin in the woods somewhere with no internet, hoping to get snowed in. I suspect a hard phone line would be needed for continuing some business, but given the option, I’d be living my own version “hibernation” – a longer-term version of what Pat Rothfuss called “declaring ‘Blanket Fort'”.

  5. I’m not a writer, but I’m a software developer, and this has hit me hard too. I don’t have metrics like words per day to measure by, but on my best day I feel like I’m maybe 80% the engineer I was a year ago. I do get things done, but the process is slower, and really complicated stuff takes forever because I can’t hold as much state in my brain anymore.

    The one good thing is that good days – like your 1850-word day, I mean – not as good as before, but not terrible – have been coming fairly often lately.

  6. My brain just perked up and did a happy dance from just that bit of description of Head On.

    I’m attempting NaNoWriMo again, but my hopes aren’t high. I somehow struggled through last year, but that was partly anger. I’m just exhausted these days. 2017 has been tough enough on me as a reader.

    I somehow hit my goal of reading 70 books this year, but that was mostly rereads. (40+ ya Star Wars books around mid-to-late January helped a lot) Getting invested in new books, however has been hard, and getting harder, as this all drags on and on. :(

  7. I hear you on this, Mr. Scalzi. I haven’t been able to get anything done worth a damn this entire year, and I’m just in the plotting stages – I’ve had a bunch of plots fall apart at various stages because I just can’t pull myself together enough to make them work. And it’s largely because every time I look outside, something has gotten worse. It helps a little to know I’m not the only one, but WTF, this year.

  8. It’s been rough enough here that I’ve even slipped on my “gotta be female at least once a week” self care regimen. And some of my artistic hobbies have taken a bit of a hit too. I’ve been having to also learn what the new normal means for what my own personal hobby workflows look like. I’m not liking that we’ve gone from slow progression in terms of LGBT rights to at least my part of the alphabet being chased down by the bus others were trying to throw us under.

    This has been compounded by losing someone to cancer this year who had become pretty much an uncle to me, given how long he’d been in my life (since before I graduated high school, and I’m in my forties!), another who has had to have a foot amputated because of diabetic complications, plus yet another who is still recovering from a damned serious liver infection he picked up in the midst of his divorce.

    There are days I’d kind of like to sell everything off, pay off our debts with that money, and then find some isolated hole somewhere to go live like our ancestors, but part of me wonders if even that’s going to be enough with the way things keep snapping.

  9. I spent a good chunk of last night command-R’ing three or four tabs in rotation. Instead of sleeping, which is what I should have been doing. It turns out that even a message from my cousin saying “Yes, I’m at Mandalay Bay, and I’m fine apart from having to go up several flights of stairs” can send my brain into a tailspin.

    And, really? “Warmest condolences”? Who says that?

  10. Well, if you decide to turn all this angst into some stories with a stronger, heavier voice of social commentary, I will be happy to buy and read them. You’ve clearly got the all you need to be more of a social critic through your art. I suspect you could do some literary wizardry that would both preach to and challenge the choir.

  11. Thank you. I’ve been beating myself up a little for not reaching my word counts because I get so caught up in the Awful. Disengaging entirely doesn’t feel right to me, though I’m sure I’d write faster if I did. It’s good to be reminded that everyone hurts but we keep making good things regardless.

  12. Well put. Ironically, my writing speed has picked up this year. I live in South Korea, where the threat of Trump starting a war has focused my mind admirably. But I also need to devote time to responding to the news from America (as long as I’m sane enough), because being a white woman makes me one of the lucky ones. And frankly, I also feel lucky about being overseas right now. I’m sitting at a Starbucks right now surrounded by relatively sane Korean people, none of whom are rage-tweeting fascist propaganda or NRA endorsements. I don’t know if I could preserve my saintly calm if I were sitting in an American Starbucks right now. Peace, Scalzi! (Been reading “Whatever” since I was an ex-pat in Egypt 14 years ago! Glad your words keep coming, at any speed.)

  13. Yours is one the best blogs period. I am thankful for your candor and your ability to say what you mean. Thank you for your insights in writing and in trying to craft a story in absolutely shitty times. You got my prayers and positive thoughts for clear and concise writing during these difficult days. Peace to you and yours.

  14. Thank you so much. I’m trying to write a novella and the third book in my new series, and I’ve been struggling so much since last year because everything is just so awful. We all need to hear that we are not alone in feeling this way. Some days, my writing is the only thing that keeps me going. On days like today, I just don’t have it in me. You are wonderful for sharing this with us. We feel you too.

  15. Not entirely by choice, I found myself retired on November 4, 2016 (at the age of 51). Part of the reason was that I went from one child to four in 2015, and my priority and attention was no longer focused toward the job I was doing. I am a programmer, not a writer.

    I say not entirely by choice because my employer made the decision to let me go, but not a day went by that I didn’t think about making the same decision. And it was my choice to live on my savings rather than seek new employment.

    I can’t imagine trying to work and be productive in the Age of Trump. You mentioned Katrina, but for me the trauma of finding myself in a country with Donald Trump as President was more like 9/11. It’s a realization that I don’t understand the society in which I live. On the morning of November 8, I thought I had a handle on it. I thought I could see the “arc of history”. Turns out the arc is longer than I imagined.

    For those who share my dismay, but manage to keep on keeping on: You have my respect.

  16. Same. I’ve had some actual if mild depression, since my father died earlier this year, but the wider world does pour in like a rising river of toxic sludge. Every day. For me, it’s compounded by still having to file opinion columns when I’m not writing novels. This blog entry distresses me because I had hoped to really dial back on the column work next year and just lose myself in fiction.

  17. Yepper. I’ve put on 15 pounds at least, sleep like crap and can’t focus anymore. I constantly find myself distracted over the latest craptastic episode of life with Trump. Nice write up Scalzi, you nailed it.

  18. Thank you. Really. I’m a student, and this semester has been just… awful. I can’t focus, no matter how many of the time-honored tips and tricks and -goddammit- hacks I employ. Even the classes I’d normally enjoy, I find myself just Not Caring about, with important capital letters. Add this to my ever-present major depression, and my returning seasonal depression, and just making it to class at all feels like a bit of miracle. I feel like all I can do lately (from a small town on a student budget with chronic illness/es) *is* feel. And the feelings are all horrible. And somehow, in a weird, twisty, extremely human way, knowing that someone I admire is fighting the battle too…. makes me feel…. better? I dunno. But thank you.

  19. So: What changes did you make? It may not be immediately applicable to anyone else’s workflow, but it would help inspire us.

  20. I think another important difference between the Trump and Bush regimes is that with Bush you kind of knew how each day would suck. The war was just grinding along and the news was awful in kind of a grey, continuous way. Some small number dead, a bomb here or there, some putrid bill working its way through Congress. Bush had terrible ideas but he announced and tried to execute them in the usual way. Things were bad but it was a consistent kind of bad you could get used to. (Until Wall St. suddenly up and crapped the economic bed one day.)

    Now with Trump you still have all that- his awful Cabinet is slowly chipping away at civilization while the Russia investigation scrapes the dirt off some more evidence like some kind of bureaucratic archaeology dig. But on top of that you’ve got the wild card in the Oval. Did he threaten to nuke North Korea? Are we at war to take Nambia’s oil? Which minority is up for two-minutes-hate today? Or did he just start a pissing match over trade with our closest allies? You can try to tune out the news but it’s hard to suppress the thought that maybe in the last fifteen minutes he napalmed the ancestral seat of the O’Bamas in Ireland.

  21. I’m afraid of Trump in a way I haven’t been afraid of any other president. If he notices I’m alive and don’t approve him, he could fuck up my life with a tweet — and he might. As much as I hated Bush, he was at heart a decent man, trying to do the right thing, and although he failed spectacularly, there is a difference between trying to do the right thing and failing, and not giving a fuck about doing the right thing and succeeding at doing the wrong thing.

  22. You have summed up exactly what I have been feeling/thinking for much of this year. Focusing on normal life has been tough when life isn’t normal. Part of me is just so fed up I want to ignore it all, but the rest of me knows that only by paying attention can I know what I can do to try to make things better. And so the cycle continues.

  23. At a recent doctor’s visit my doctor said, “Your blood pressure is up a bit. That’s never been a problem for you before. Has anything changed recently?”

    Uhhhhh. Yeah.

    Since November my blood pressure is up, I’m binge eating and my creative process has gone through the basement. I wake up with trepidation every day, bracing myself against the day’s fresh horror. I know I’m not alone; I have friends who are losing their hair, or have also had blood pressure issues and stress-related illnesses and aren’t writing or painting like they had been a year ago. I mean, geez, I *long for* the days of Dubya. Even robot-heart Cheney wasn’t as epically horrific as this administration. And who are the supporters–I don’t mean political flunkies, I mean John Q. Public–who haven’t run screaming from him yet? I can’t even understand how that is possible.

  24. Hey. Just wanted to say: your work is important. It’s delightful and funny and captivating and exactly what’s needed this year and probably next. Work on whatever schedule keeps you happy and excellent. Don’t sell yourself short, John.

  25. It seems that every time I start on my “tune out the noise by HARD physical training and teaching self advanced math” there’s another explosion. I recognize intellectually that it’s not about me, and that those who died or were wounded last night have it incompatibly worse (the carnage reminded me of a bad day in Vietnam, when on many nights the evening news would report that “yesterday, 59 Americans died in Vietnam and over 500 were wounded when two battalions of the 101st Airborne was heavily engaged…”). At the same time my concentration has become almost nil when I’m not forcing myself to act. Somethings it reaches the point where I note that I’m showing all the symptoms of being clinically depressed when I don’t think I am.

    And aside from a very few webs sites I can no longer read comments sections. The hatred on them has become unbearable to me.

  26. I’ve noticed the same thing with my own output, albeit hobby related. Sometimes I have to force myself into doing it. It doesn’t help that my fragment of the LGBT seems to be a prime target for aiming the bus some have been trying to throw us under.

    Hells, it’s getting harder to even do my self care of “get out once a week or more in my preferred gender presentation”. There’s a certain dread that they might succeed in making my very existence illegal on the basis of I’m either a monster, or that it’s enough of a “choice” that I can just stop doing it and corrode in my own misery.

    And then we compound it with what others are going through from the same administration, and then the rest of the nastiness the year’s been throwing at me (one friend, practically an uncle, dead from cancer this year, another lost a foot to diabetes, third got a divorce and is still recovering from a liver infection) and it’s any wonder that I can still remain functional.

  27. John, I’ve wondered this a couple of times and now seems like a good time to ask: Do you think any of the production struggle is related to the book deal? I only ask because for the past year I’ve been lucky enough to be able to pursue my creative work as a full-time gig for the first time ever, and it’s not the same. The pressure to produce is like a tangible thing now, and I can only imagine it would be worse if I had a similar deal. Not saying that world affairs aren’t a distraction, but some days that pressure pushes me to the distraction. Do you have thoughts on this?

  28. If we live through this, we will have stories the next generation will simply not believe.

    A president rushed to defend nazis?

    Yes. Yes he did.

    Nixon looks like a jaywalker and GWBush looks like a harvard professor compared to trump.

  29. One more thing. My child’s training to be a social worker. All the therapists they know — including their own therapist — are putting in overtime supporting one other and brainstorming ways to do self-care. All their patients are in greater distress this year, and most of the “worried well” aren’t well any more.

    It’s not just us. Everybody’s got that empty feeling like their mother or their dog just died.

  30. I feel you, Scalzi. Not specifically with regard to writing process, but to the constant train wreck perpetually happening, right outside the window, while the people who could pull the switch and move those trains to different tracks just stand there and watch it happen, because they built the route and hold the levers. I spent 16+ years in newspapers myself and trained to always stay on top of what’s going on and it’s very, very hard to break or even make a crack in the abyss-staring habit.

  31. I haven’t been able to write a journal entry all year. All i do is read the news all night long and then blog about it. Oh yeah, and then a coworker found that and got me in trouble, so now I can only check to see if we got blown up yet today while coworker is out at lunch (and had to switch blogs). I don’t work out much (though there’s other factors contributing to that). I stopped doing an activity I really liked and all I do most nights is read the news any more.

    I don’t know how I am going to do NaNo, maybe this is the year I break my streak. I’ve been doing it since 2001.

    I suspect Scalzi’s change of process boils down to “lowered expectations” and “build into your schedule knowing that you will be reading news half the night every night”-type stuff.

    I can say that going to festivals and plays has been great distraction, especially world-building ones like the Renaissance Faire where they just plain don’t have you-know-who there. That does help.

  32. That deeply resonated with me. I’ve been working in litigation support since ’99, and this is the hardest year I’ve had in a lot of ways. 2015 and 2016 were significantly busier, but they didn’t have the sense of dread hanging over them like they do now. There’s so much wanton fuckery from not just Trump but the Republicans in general it’s almost impossible to keep up. As horrifying as the Las Vegas shooting was yesterday, 9 million children lost their medical insurance because the Republicans in congress wouldn’t reauthorize the funds. Only to then have Trump declare tiday National Children’s Day. I just don’t have enough gall anymore.
    But I’m a straight, white male too, and while I’m not rich, I do well enough that I’m not a paycheck away from financial ruin. So tuning out for me is a privilege most others don’t have. I wouldn’t call it guilt really either, so much as I feel a responsibility to at the very least listen.
    My creativity has also suffered, and my writing has become even slower than it was previously. I’m working through it, tweaking my own work flow, but I’m also having yo change my professional work flow too. I appreciate you sharing, and you’re right, we are all in this together. Best wishes to you and everyone else struggling through.

  33. I feel this, so much. My last novel released in April 2015, and I’ve only managed to put out a couple of short stories since then. I’ve been too paralyzed with grief, fear, and rage to sit down and just let myself sink into the fictional worlds I’ve created. I’m writing a fair amount of non-fiction, but I can’t seem to let myself detach from reality; I’m too afraid I’m going to miss something important, and wind up getting blindsided by something awful that will directly affect me.

    Some of this is PTSD-induced hypervigilance. I had an abusive, chaotic childhood. I’m several things, a few of them visible, that millions of people think make me unworthy of the oxygen I consume. I’ve spent almost my entire life looking over my shoulder and trying very hard not to piss off the people who might decide to do me serious harm.

    But even my usual sense of having an armory’s worth of Swords of Damocles floating over me is only a fraction of what I’ve been feeling for the past two years. Honestly, it started before then, really: About the time Gamergate fired up and I realized the violent misogyny of that movement was going to crash headlong into Hillary’s campaign. I remember posting before she declared that as much as I really thought she’d be an outstanding president, I dreaded the avalanche of sexism that was going to be unleashed: Cishet white guys already incensed by the raging success of a Black president weren’t going to deal well with the possibility of a woman.

    My deepest fears about that have come true–and worse: I didn’t expect so much of this hatred to be coming from the supposed left. And now I’m left wondering what I can possibly do to keep myself and my loved ones safe from whatever hell may be unleashed next. (Having some personal-life crises come up in the middle of this certainly hasn’t helped.)

    For my own self, I’ve gone back into therapy, which is helping somewhat. I’ve also been taking to heart something my husband told me recently: Chances are decent that I’ll survive this, and if I do, I’ll be very disappointed that I didn’t get much work done in this time. I can’t put my entire life on hold just because I’m afraid of something that may not even happen.

    And too, there’s merit in my continuing to work. My stuff may not have wide distribution, but it’s still something that helps increase representation in SFF for marginalized people, and that’s still sorely needed, especially now. It’s not exactly feeding refugees, but it’s something, and one of the few things I actually have the power and ability to do.

    Things may get worse. They probably will, in fact. But I think the human race will survive. And if it does–even if I don’t–I can still leave the legacy of my work. I just have to remind myself that that is important, even in times like this.

  34. I hated Bush too, and never thought I’d live to a President who embarrassed me even more than him when speaking. I see the difference as being that Trump is malevolently incompetent and abuses the system for himself, whereas Bush was too incompetent to keep others from abusing it.

  35. I can’t unplug. I’m in the business of providing information to people, helping them find what they need, and it’s in the job description and all up in my grill. I’m sure the professionals, writers, journalists, other news reporters, have it worse because they must look into this abyss and talk about it. Although not all the malaise can be directly attributed to our Cheeto-in-Chief, there is enough collateral damage to go around.

  36. Thank you for writing this.

    I have an almost-one year old, born just three weeks before the election. It’s been easy to beat myself up about having trouble focusing at work and eating too much junk food ever since, blame it on “mom brain” or postpartum depression. And hell, those have been in play at times too. But it’s *not* just that. It is completely reasonable to be in an unreasonable state of mind when an authoritarian cheeto rules over you, and to accomplish anything at all in spite of it all is a victory.

    Your words are a more eloquent reminder of that fact.

  37. I developed depression, have been having hourly suicidal thoughts about nine months out of the eleven or so since the election, nearly had a nervous breakdown and had to go to campus psych somewhere around the second attempt at a Muslim ban, and every night dream either of Donald Trump killing or raping my parents, brother, grandparents, and close friends, or dream of brutally murdering Donald Trump in front of his family and enjoying it. Both leave me waking up in a cold sweat. My physical health is mediocre and my mental health is a sick joke.

    And I’m a straight white guy.

    The worst part is? I don’t have safe harbor. Star Trek? Nope, that’s run by Alex Kurtzmann now and is spewing xenophobic propaganda about how Klingons are inherently evil and all their culture understands is violence so it’s OK to kill them. Supergirl? Enjoy Supergirl’s new love interest, who’s about the most obnoxious cartoon frat-boy stereotype ever and constantly gaslights her. Volunteering at a natural history museum? Creationists make a point of going to those to pick a fight with docents. Comic books? Hey. kid who idolizes Captain America and wants to be just like him! Your hero is now Captain HYDRA, Nazi oppressor! We also turned the X-Men evil for shitty corporate reasons! Pay us more money!

    So yeah. Our President is literally the worst since Buchanan at least, and his only saving grace is that he hasn’t (yet) committed actual ethnic cleansing, though he seems to be working on that. His administration is an unrelenting storm of pure awful with no end in sight. There is nothing good and kind that I can take comfort in.

    Honestly, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just step in front of a train and end it. It’d be better than flunking senior year and wasting my parents’ time and money because Donald Trump consumed my soul.

  38. It’s timely for me to read this today because, between the 2-year anniversary of my mom’s passing, a bit of chronic depression, and the news from Vegas, I haven’t gotten anything substantial done today. Well, unless you count emailing all my Congressional reps about gun control legislation, but beyond that, nothing that I actually wanted to do today. Still, it’s heartening to read that we’re all facing the same kind of struggle to stay creative in a negative time and place in the world. So, thank you, John.

  39. Am now sitting in bed, late night, cuddled up to big snoring dog, listening to Tom Petty… and crying.

    ( “warmest condolences” ? wtf? sociopath. crap.)

    Very very tempted to disengage…

  40. Interesting, from the consistent tone in these comments you are clearly editing which ones show up. Fair enough, no one wants to see the hate mail you no doubt receive. But perhaps you’ll allow this slightly different view: the fact of living in interesting times usually does affect one’s writing but often in history it has proven a positive impact, and writers have done their best work under very hard circumstances. The work is what matters. I wonder at your preoccupation with process, and how much of that is a function of the (self imposed?) demands of Twitter. Wishing you good success,

  41. Thank you for sharing your struggle with the persistent awfulness.
    All of you.
    I got that I’m going to throw up feeling last November and while it subsides, sometimes for days at a time, the non-stop crazy punctuated by fits of hateful violence keeps it close by. It’s a constant drain on whatever it is that fuels my creativity.
    While it doesn’t necessarily make me feel better to know that many of you are experiencing this too, it is good to know I’m not alone.

  42. I’m all the way over in Australia, and theoretically safe for that reason and various others. But it’s such a relief to hear that this is worse, much worse, than everything we thought was bad before. It’s especially encouraging to hear that other writers are struggling, and I’m not the only one berating myself for suddenly being slower at my job. The anniversary of that awful day is coming, and I remember what a gut-shot it was, all the way over here.

  43. Thank you John as always you hit the nail on the head, one also feels a sense of community knowing that you are not the only one suffering.
    For now we have to hang on because it’s going to get worse, it’s going to get much worse.

  44. I haven’t been able to finish anything since May of this year. Trump’s election was, indeed, a shot to the gut, and I just can’t concentrate any more. I’m in one of those vulnerable groups, and it feels awful to know how much me and my ilk are despised. At least I have the luxury of presenting as a white dude. There are many others who can’t do that, and I feel guilty about it. Every day brings some new outrage, and I check the news to make sure we haven’t launched the nukes yet first thing in the morning.

    I’ve been unemployed for five months, looking for a day job the whole time; the rest of my family are pro-Trump, so I’m not going to bother looking for emotional support from them; and yet I’m one of the lucky ones. It keeps me up at night, knowing that, and not being able to do a damn thing to do anything about it, other than minor things like giving blood. Every new event feels like the action of a malign universe which is sick of our shit, and wants to make sure we know.

    It does help to know I’m not alone, so thank you, John, and thank you to everyone else in the thread.

  45. The Last Supper was painted between 1495 and 1498. Around that time:
    – the first outbreak of Syphilis in Europa took place
    – the First Italian War was fought
    – the ruler of Florence was executed for saying something rude about the Pope &
    – Columbus unlocked the door that would lead to the slaughter of millions of people in the Americas (and, about half a millennium later, the Trump presidency.)

    In other words, no need to fret over the frivolity of art. That mixture of the beautiful, cruel, kind & ugly insane: it was ever thus.

  46. It’s after 1:00 a.m. and I still have hours of work to do tonight. I haven’t been able to get it done today because I’ve been obsessively checking Twitter and Facebook and various newspapers and news outlets for further news. So yeah, I know whereof you speak.

    Trying hard not to despair.

  47. Riccardo:

    In fact, I have edited none of the comments so far. If you’re seeing a consistent tone, there may be another reason for it, possibly the one noted in the actual piece.

  48. @Floored: you don’t know me, because I’m a lurking lurker who lurks a lot, but I’ve been hanging around these parts for a while now, and I wanted to say: as far as I’m concerned, this world, screwed up as it is, would yet be dimmed and diminished if you were no longer in it. I don’t mean that generically, or as some sort of general principle, I mean it about you, specifically. I am very sorry everything hurts so much right now.

  49. Thanks Mr. Scalzi, I stand corrected about the reason for the “consistent tone” in the comments section (which I also noticed as soon as I hit ‘post’ and my comment instantly appeared without any time for curating on your part!). But does your 5 AM reply to my comment maybe support my worry that you are too tied to the Twitter-verse for your own good as an artist?

  50. Sorry, but I never let the national political scene bother me to the point where it interferes with my writing. Being a guv’ment worker on the state level, it’s that particular scene that has from time to time, wrecked havoc on my writing. I’m also not as attached to social media as the majority of the people (including you) here are, and that is done on purpose (lessons gleaned from the chat room wars of ’07-’10).

    In short, while I may cruise an aggregate news site like MSN to keep reasonably informed, I still make a conscious effort not to let the national scene bother me, because it doesn’t directly affect me like it does on the state level.

  51. I’m like Evan, a software developer. And this article and thread is very helpful for me. I was trying to figure out why it’s been so hard for me for about the last year now, if age is catching up with me. Perhaps, but the immediate cause is the royal storm of crap raining down on the world from the people who’ve dedicated their lives to making this planet a worse place for others. It’s hard to be creative and innovative when you’re perpetually shoveling out from all this.

  52. Possibly a small comfort: one of the good things for me about this year is that I discovered your books. I’ve been working my way through them, rationing them to stretch out the pleasure.

    Also, I *have* finally been getting the 30-year accumulation of crap in the basement cleaned up and organized. So two good things :-).

  53. This is how the world ends — not with a bang* but a whimper**

    Look at us with our little Dark Ages, our long slide down the Fall of Empire, secondary shock-waves reaching out and taking our human art and artists out at the knees…this doesn’t surprise me, but it saddens me and makes me wish I could call on all artists to Fight Back! and Keep Creating! — but it doesn’t work that way, does it. Art is born of a human soul that is strong enough to give birth, which is why we have less of it in times of “spiritual” starvation.

    *ok, Eliot did not mean a gun, but now that I typed that the day after Vegas I feel all kinds of gross and weird;

    **or rather, a long flopping flail, like a big fish loose on the kitchen floor.

  54. Floored, I’m with Julia above. I’ve been lurking here for years now and your comments have consistently shown you to be one of the good ones.

    Depression distorts your emotional responses to real stimuli so badly that you cannot trust yourself to make rational decisions.

    In my early twenties I decided that everyone would be better off if I didn’t exist. I put the knife to my wrist and pushed down,fully intending to drag it up my arm as many times as it took to open every artery in there. The pain and the weird sensation of my skin stretching before it ripped made me hesitate.

    It was the first sensation I’d had in days, so numb and worn down I was from the constant cycle of bad thought, denial and guilt. I had reached the point of flattened affect where nothing mattered at all anymore so why not get it over with?

    That hesitation saved my life. I had a moment of clarity, where I saw my mother on her knees scrubbing my blood out of the carpet. She was crying. Crying forever, because I would be dead forever.

    I was under professional care the next day, and now 30 years later I cope pretty well and all the life I’ve experienced, good and bad since that close call has been worth it.

    My depression was real and the things in my life that triggered it were real too. I was perceiving reality just fine. But my diseased brain was twisting it all around and around until the path out my situation was impossible to find.

    It took an outside eye, in my case a trained one possessing the authority to prescribe early generation anti depressives, to find a route in the thickets depression had thrown up in my mind.

    Once I was out of immediate danger I found another therapist who helped me walk along that path until I could see the light of the outside world again for myself.

    Or, to put it less poetically: they gave me coping strategies to deal with the ups and downs of life. And most importantly, they were a sounding board, an intelligent, dispassionate resource who could look at my situation without the distortions my brain was putting up.

    I cannot claim my journey is fully relevant to yours. Depression is to subjective for that. But I do know without a shadow of a doubt that you deserve every possible chance to experience all the wonder and joy there still is in the world. And it *is*there, I promise this as one who spent years and years being unable to see it. Just as you probably can’t now.

    Your brain is also probably telling you I’m wrong.

    Depression lies.

    Help exists.

    And this stranger on the internet actually cares.

  55. Riccardo:

    No, it means I was awoken by a cat. I went back to sleep not too long thereafter.


    This year is depressing. I’m not suffering from depression. I will note that it’s not the first time I’ve had to “change my swing” as a writer.

  56. Yeah, I got that John. I was addressing Floored above who expressed suicidal ideation.

  57. I have been pretty disappointed in Trump’s effectiveness, so far. But your post has raised my optimism.

  58. This is the first time in my life I have ever needed blood pressure meds. I know damn well it’s due to the unremitting fuckery coming out of DC on a constant basis. And yeah, it’s hit my writing process, as well.

  59. Me too. But at least I’m spending some of that lost time and focus on political action. It sucks that I start my mornings after reading the comics calling my senators and congressmen. It sucks that my Sunday evenings are spent proofreading for an action group. It sucks that DH attends political meetings while I watch the kids a couple of times a month and that we’ve spent various weekends protesting or volunteering for political events. I hate politics. Representative government sucks when it breaks down and can no longer be trusted. Ugh.

    But it would suck more if we weren’t doing this, and it would suck less if people like me and like my husband had been doing this kind of stuff before last November’s election.

    Local elections are around the corner many places. Check out your registration and the local ballots. Local politics matter!

  60. Yep. Although I don’t think I’ve ever written more than 1000 words in a day (600 is a very good day for me), my productivity has been more than halved since November, and my news consumption is way, way up. It sucks.

  61. My plan all along had been to finish the first installment of an epic fantasy series by the end of September. With my usual output of 1500 to 2000 words a day, that seemed do-able… but the world keeps intruding. I still have good days–3200 words one day a couple of weeks ago–but most are in the 500 – 800 range. I find myself writing during what is normally “family time” just to try to catch up. Yesterday was bad–I just stopped in the middle of a sentence. Looking at the damn thing staring at me right now. I don’t blame Trump. I blame all his mindless and hateful followers. Liberal use of Facebook’s “block” and “unfollow” functions has helped, but even the morning news is filled with their lies, and no one calls them on it. Ever.

    I’ve decided to avoid television for the next two months to see if that helps…

  62. @Floored, I’m so sorry for the way you’re suffering. Please don’t harm yourself. Your life has value and you are worthy of joy, even though it can be hard to find right now. (And we all know that Captain America would never support Hydra and those writers are lying liars).

    @Scalzi and all the other writers, your work is important. Not just because it provides escape and entertainment, but because it opens up other worlds, other perspectives. I am absolutely convinced that reading novels helps me to be a better person because of the way it puts me in someone else’s head and makes me think about different situations.

  63. My experience is that my day job productivity has suffered, but I’ve been better at making time for writing just to have an outlet to vent my frustration at all of the crap going on. I’m just a hobbyist, so the writing isn’t doing anything for my bottom line, but it does help me deal with the mess that 2017 has been.

  64. BTW–Trump has been a positive in at least one area. When my 10-year-old starts acting like an ass, all I have to say is “Don’t be a Donald.” He gets it, and stops said asshole-ishness at once.

    Apparently, no one wants to be a Donald…

  65. It’s not just you. I was at an SCBWI conference 2 weeks ago where the editor and agent said the entire industry has been set back on its heels. Projects they were really excited about now seem trivial and they’re searching for material that speaks to these times, knowing the turnaround time they need may make such work outdated before contracts can even be signed.

  66. Oh my God I feel SO MUCH BETTER about my own slowdown now. (I mean, in my case I’m blogging about movies rather than writing best-selling novels, but STILL.) Thank you.

  67. Since January, I have been relying heavily on giving myself different colored stars in my calendar every day to get things done.

  68. @floored: I’m mostly a lurker on Mr. Scalzi’s threads, but I see your comments frequently and often enjoy them. I echo those others on this thread in their hopes that you’ll find a way forward without harming yourself. We’re all candles in the dark right now, aren’t we? But every night ends.

  69. This, so much. Have had a very rough couple of years in terms of productivity, which at first I assumed was just the age effect and associated health problems. Thinking back now, how much of the problem in 2015-16 was seeing this train switch onto the track toward the abyss before the whole country was hooked to it? From about October 2015, the writing has gone downhill, not just in daily output, but in coherence. Which meant more rewrites. Which were harder and harder and slower and slower. The parts of my writing I could always count on slipped away. And yes, it’s like Katrina, only every day that week, over and over and over, with more and more sewage pouring out of the pipes. It’s not just the news that wears us down…it’s the reality of the damage done, the damage that’s visible in every state, in ever face on a city street. The willingness to do damage, the sheer scale of the attacks and the corruption and the mean-heartedness. When I was younger, and in a different crisis, writing was my safe place to go. But I’m older, and this is bigger, and now writing fiction feels like a cop-out. (Not for everyone, but for me.) Now it feels like I should be doing something else. And the last book on the contract is in production.

  70. This year…I am just a mess. Distracted, short tempered, sometimes depressed. I was trying to take a news vacation this week, but made the mistake of looking at Facebook Monday morning. I would have found out at work anyway,

    I am terrified my son will have something horrible happen to him. He is 2, so it’s not like he is going to concerts in Vegas. But the world has steadily grown crazier, and it has sped up this year. Bombings at tween concerts, shootings at movie theaters…where is it safe to go?

    I work at a hospital which is the level one Trauma Center in a major city. I know we are going to be working on making sure we have the surge capacity for a mass casualty incident like Vegas. I am a member of committees that work on prep. Our assumption is that something like this WILL happen here. Because all evidence suggests it is inevitable.

    We are living in the Crazy Years. I’m doing IVF right now, and I keep thinking about calling it off, because what responsible person brings another kid into this madness? But then I hope that bringing up a loved, hopefully well adjusted kid can bring good into the world.

  71. John: it’s not just you, I’m having difficulty doing the creative stuff, too.

    I think fiction writers generally need to be in, if not a happy place, then at least a not shitty place in order to focus on creating.

    Trump isn’t on my doorstep as he is on yours, but I’ve got the equivalent fuck-uppery that is Brexit to make up for the shortfall (which has also given a buttload of racist dipshits license to come out and spray their poison in public). There is no respite.

    For added happy fun vibes my father died a couple of months ago. Okay, he made it past his 93rd birthday … but that’s scant comfort. Which is by way of saying my own target of 2000 words/day? I’m making heavy weather of it — and the book’s due in on November 1st.

  72. @Floored: From your commenting history, I can tell that you are a very very smart, insightful person with a lot of self-awareness and openhearted empathy for others which makes it not at all surprising that conditions are affecting you profoundly. You’re also in a high-risk demographic for depression. If you need to, go ahead and scale back your classes or take a semester or two off and recover your mental health. It’s not only very much OK to to that, it’s also extremely common (I”m a prof and have this conversation a lot). The other practical thing I might suggest is that you consider altering some of your external conditions to relieve some of the pressure from US politics. Maybe you can transfer to a school up here in Canada? Tuition is much lower (esp when paid in US dollars), quality is high, and as a graduate of a Canadian citizen, you would be eligible apply for a visa that allows for work experience upon graduation and even fast-tracks a citizenship application. You’d like it here, I think. I’d be happy to talk with you more about this option, if it ever appeals to you. At the very least, you could escape some of the unrelenting awfulness that is the US news these days.

    My very best wishes to you at this tough time in your life. You’ve got a lot to contribute and we need every one of the good people (like you) right now.

  73. YES!! Absolutely. Not to mention the time taken up with all the advocacy/activism/push back (which has had to go by the wayside in order to do any writing at all) to assert values and principles that used to seem obviously-and-universally-agreed-upon issues of simple right and wrong. Or the thousands of words discarded because they no longer made sense in a world that no longer makes sense, or because they were no longer outrageous or satirical or prophetic. Sigh. Thanks for writing this – it does really help to know other writers are struggling the same way.

  74. A suggestion to no one in particular:

    If a creative person is telling you they are having trouble being creative while people are dying, do me a favor and try NOT to reinforce the “artists must suffer for their work” trope. Yes, great art has been made during some of history’s worst times, but the last thing an artist suffering from depression needs to hear is “hey, maybe this will be good for you” response.

    No. Taking care of your mental health would be good for you.

    When a creative friend says they are suffering, the uninitiated may feel uncomfortable with their friends discomfort and may look to pop psychology to make it go away quickly. And then pop off some remark like “that which doesnt kill you makes you stronger”. It may make you feel less uncomfortable because you’ve convinced yourself that you helped your friend, but now your friend is depressed AND when they asked to please make it stop, they were told, relax, maybe you’ll enjoy it.

    If anyone comes to you and says they’re struggling with depression, a good place to start is “I am so sorry”. And if you consider them a friend then maybe add “is there anything I can do” or just invite them for some time together as friends.

    Your friend may need some sort of professional help. Counseling. Therapy. Whatever. If you attach a stigma to that and get uncomfortable around them for that, it doesnt help your friend. If they are depressed and you are not, thats like they’re leg is in a cast and yours is not. You can use your position to help and support, but only if you dont feel like they have cooties. If you do, cut it out or find a way to deal with it that doesnt burden them with your baggage.

    When all else fails, remember “I am so sorry” and “is there anything I can do?”

  75. I’m a renfaire performer.
    I’m seeing an uptick in comments from other performers and vendors about general parton boorish and asshole behavior. This seems to be hitting female performers particularly hard – specifically those with flirtatious or bawdy shows. They are facing more challenges in the lanes and even in the parking lots after hours. I heard from a merchant last night who not only had to deal with an asshole guest during show hours, but the guy then left, looked him up online, and left a threatening message on his voicemail.

    I was back in the lanes as a street performer and musician days after 9/11 – because we needed to keep making a magical and special place for our guests. If we had to periodically duck backstage because we needed to hug and cry, we wiped out tears away and went back out there – because we were needed. I’ve never worked harder or been prouder to be a performer than I was that day.

    Now I read the words of my fellow performers this season and wonder why and what we can do to stay safe and keep making music, magic, and laughter for our guests.

  76. John Donne said, no man is an island: You don’t need to ask who died, because a little piece of you died when the others did. If a person is involved in humanity, it can’t help but be upsetting when the human condition is being made more chaotic and unbalanced. I think we are readers of Scalzi because Scalzi is not an island and he is involved with humanity. Learning about the dark side of America is not pleasant, but it seems to be our task. Then we need to bring that consciousness into daily application, as individuals. Fiction writers, we readers need the role models you create to show some ways to regain balance and order in the world. Hang in there, everyone. Figure out a piece of your own puzzle at a time, and then put them together. We need you.

  77. This is so me. Yes, it’s like a Katrina a month.
    At a guess I’ve been having a half-productivity year, and then add into that the fact that a lot of the remaining productivity gets siphoned off into resisting–into calling my Senators, urging my friends to call their Senators and making sure they have the info to make that very convenient, into canvassing and phone banking for the Democratic Party locally and in the nearest swing district. (Note that I’m not insisting other people do so, but if you *do* have some time and productivity to spare we could really use some help with this–5calls.org and SwingLeft would be two reasonable google targets.)

  78. This piece resonates with me, and makes me feel less alone. I’m struggling. I make my living writing, it’s how I keep a roof over my head, and it’s been much harder than usual. In the long term, the pain, rage, frustration, and what we’re learning about our fellow human beings will fuel the work, but some days, right now, it’s overwhelming.

  79. Thank you so very much for writing this. I thought it was just me, that I wasn’t able to keep up, that I’ve been self-sabotaging in fear of success, or whatever. I’m reminded of something Jon Pavolvitz said in one of his blogs – hateful people are exhausting. Even when I can disengage (I have the luxury of some of that through privilege, but other aspects, I don’t enjoy privilege to disengage, but I can tag out), it’s always there, waiting, to the point of forcing me to consciously make disengage-time a thing I have to schedule.

    To you and everyone else here in the comments going through the same or similar, heartfelt solidarity. And the thing that keeps me going is to remind myself that it’s okay to take a little more time to make the great art, because when it’s made, it’s forever, so it’s hard to donate a little piece of yourself to forever when you need more of you to just get through the day with yourself and your loved ones intact.

  80. reinforcing what Cat Faber says– 5calls is amazing. They’ve got scripts for all sorts of different issues and tell you who to call. Basically you pick from their menu what’s important to you and make phone calls (for me, this morning was guns, yesterday was taxes, last week there was a lot of ACA and Puerto Rico… was that last week, it seems so many emergencies ago…). Swingleft is worth giving money to (in my opinion). Also depending on where you live your local indivisible group might be worth joining or else your local democratic party, but even if not, there’s stuff you can do from home to resist with however much time you can take out of your week. (I’ve been pushing myself just beyond my comfort level, personally, mainly because my guilt about staying within my comfort level prior to the election is so strong.)

  81. “It is, bluntly, unremitting awfulness”… some nice turns of phrases therein. There a few great paragraphs that I enjoyed reading aloud to my colleague. So thanks for your ponderings amidst the nausea.

  82. My husband asked me this morning how the new book was coming along. Very slowly, was my answer. He then asked if I was carving out enough time for the creative stuff, or if I was simply feeling uninspired. Honestly, I just don’t have the heart for it right now. The ideas are flowing, I know how to make time in my day, but it’s like this heaviness is weighing on me. It helps knowing others feel the same.

  83. I feel your pain…you are right, and it’s not just Trump’s awfulness but that there are others that amplify and magnify that ugliness. And those others are emboldened and it wears on me as I’m sure it does you. Can I borrow your idiot hammer for a day? I promise I’ll clean off the mess before I return it.

  84. I strongly advise against suicide over a politician, especially when he’s likely to be a one-termer. The U.S. government is so big it takes a long, long time to effect any real changes. Don’t throw your life away over it.

  85. I was fresh out of grad school when we were expecting our first child. I asked my friend, also a writer and new father, where he found his writing time. He said he just didn’t have as much writing time anymore but managed to get things written anyway. He also got to be a father. His experience resonated with me. I put writing in the back seat. We didn’t hire a nanny and I focused on being the primary caregiver to our then one now two children. (This move was not without some ambivalence and periodic moments of heart choking anxiety). But then a funny thing happened. My writing got better. The two or three hours a day (and most often night) of writing time became more fruitful. A few inner walls came tumbling down. And I started selling things and got a movie made. Now my kids are starting school. Their early childhoods are drawing to a close. I have more time to write now, and it feels luxurious. I write from a different place. My craft has prospered from its neglect.

  86. It’s not just writers; I’m seeing a number of creative folk who aren’t “playing the game on easy”, who are feeling daily like they are being kicked in the jimmies by current events. You can try to make lemonade from lemons, but some days that truck backs up to you and you are buried in them. Out here, we are both somewhat insulated and at risk. Living in a substantially Dem state makes life easier on the varied populus, but also if some major crisis came along, I have a feeling we would be treated like Puerto Rico: hearty helpings of ‘Let them eat cake’ and Schadenfreude Pie. If it weren’t for the military, HI would be cut loose to fend for itself.

  87. Thank you so much for coming out and saying this. Strength in numbers, and all that.

    @Floored — You are heard. You MATTER. Please don’t give in. Find somebody to talk to, in person. If there’s nobody, PLEASE text “HOME” (minus quotes) to 741741 and talk to the Crisis Text Line. (https://www.crisistextline.org) Just reach out.

    …and to other folks, it’s great that you “don’t let it get to you”, or that you “wouldn’t advise suicide over a politician,” etc., but hey — maybe don’t minimize the pain of others in a comment thread where people have posted genuine suicidal ideation? Think before you type.

  88. No sympathy, John.

    If I ever told my employer I failed to complete my writing on deadline “because Trump,” the response would be: “We sympathize completely, but you are still fired.”

    Of course, you have more flexibility to push deadlines than I do. But by your own admission, Trump is the reason why your latest work is taking too long and crowding out other important projects.

    My policy: No one gets to hijack my central nervous system without my consent.

    So take back the power you’ve ceded to President Trump, and write.

    And by my count, your essay came in at 1,560 words . . .

  89. Oh, Hell yeah. I have only this to add: watch out when you disengage from the Daily Disaster, because when you tune back in the backlog hits you in the head like a frackin’ brick.

  90. I’ve had the hardest time even reading this year. Normally I read at least 25 books a year, but in 2017 so far I’ve read four. And that took effort and helpful circumstances. It’s like I don’t even want to turn on my imagination or my empathy because I’m afraid of what might flood in. Anyway, thanks for this. Between the post and the comments, I feel less alone with it today. And to @floored, I’m so sorry for what you’re experiencing and I hope the sympathies of some strangers helps a little. You’re not alone either.

  91. Tim Buckley, who draws Ctrl-Alt-Del, just posted a panel to his Patreon feed (Hey everybody! Go sign up and pledge a few bucks, he’s awesome!) that addresses this same exact thing. It’s happening all across the creative spectrum. Even as a developer I find this happening. More days recently my brain just nopes its way out and refuses to come back until the world calms down.

  92. Pedro:

    Inasmuch as I wasn’t asking for your sympathy, your lack thereof is not really an issue. Also, you appear to misunderstand the business relationship between me and my publisher (I am not their employee and I can’t be fired), nor have I missed their deadline in any event. I messed up my plans a bit for the year. That can be fixed over time. Hence the bit about needing to retool.

  93. I tried to say this earlier, but WordPress ate my password so let me try again.

    In my case (which is not anybody else’s case and I’m not saying you should be like me) I have been MORE productive, but there’s a reason for this.

    I write what I want to read and right now I want to read stories about Good v. Evil where the good guys (and gals) triumph and the bad guys lose everything. Right now I’m writing a vignette that is completely unpublishable (it’s a sort of epilogue to a novelette I just finished) but it involves a white guy with a hierarchical mindset plus a side order of racism getting his comeuppance. It feels good to write this story and it distracts me from the shitshow that our government has become.

    It probably helps that I have a steady supply of Klonopin to take the edge off. I went through a lot of it with each health care bill that went down.

  94. John:


    As I have advanced in my career, my view of my “employer” has changed substantially.

    At this point, my employer is merely a “middle man” who connects what I do well to the people who require it (those would be clients).

    If for whatever reason my employer (a) no longer wishes to be the “middle man” or (b) insists on revising the terms of our arrangement in ways that impinge upon my interests, I am free to find a new middle man.

    Of course, one must have a quality “game” to operate that way.

    At heart, our respective arrangements are not that different. . . now that I think about it.



  95. Frivolity *does* help, John. Thanks for the pet pictures. :-) I don’t have a career in a creative field, but have creative hobbies and have been finding 2017 to be a very down year for making things. I’m either glued to Twitter or burying myself in books.

  96. Finally got round to reading collapsing empire (side note really enjoyed it) and in your acknowledgments you give thanks to HawaiiCon for getting you away from the news and the mainland.

    Maybe thats the answer, rent a cabin in the woods with no internet or mobile reception with with enough food for 2 weeks and physically cut yourself off from the news to focus on writing. maybe even get food airdropped to you so you don’t accidentally hear anything. :)

  97. Thank you! Not just John but everyone else noticing the same thing has happened to them.

    Also not a writer, me; and I’ve been seriously depressed since Election Night. Everyday functioning is off kilter; can’t go a single moment without thinking about how DT is laying waste to everything he touches, and how the GOP is content to let him do so. I wake up feeling dread and despair, and go to bed in a state of inchoate rage.

    Sometimes I feel like a drama queen, sometimes I feel like it’s just me; I’m grateful to you all for letting me know it isn’t just me.

  98. Well yes I agree that 2017 has been more distracting than most. One of the ways I have dealt with it is I have started to read more books and curtailed my web browsing. Trump cannot get to me when I’m reading a good old book printed on real paper.

  99. Yeah, I’ve been having much more trouble with my own writing lately. In my case, the world outside is worsened by my roommate, who has decided that there is no point in caring about anything that doesn’t affect him, and politics doesn’t affect him (because he is a straight white male). He thinks the fact that I have opinions on such things makes me Deep and Interesting.

    The thing is, he’s *not* a Trump supporter; just so extremely tuned out that he’s not paying attention to anything. I find dealing with that makes it even harder to cope with the news– and while I’ve been trying not to read every news story that pops up on Facebook, I have to maintain some contact with all the horrible things going on.

  100. I’m in the same boat. I really struggled to finish two shorts this year, which is well below my usual output of two novels per. I didn’t even attempt to write anything long, as the deep sorrow of November 2016 into December 2016 obliterated my creativity. But speaking out more, on not just my ‘thoughts’ about what was happening, but being able to cite actual, incontrovertible evidence of how awful this administration is have somehow energized me lately, and I’m very happy to be starting a new series, in a new sub-genre. I think I can pull it off, and I’m hoping my new books will lift a few readers spirits in the coming year. They deserve a break from the madness.

  101. wendyzskiWendy, I just wanted to say thank you. You probably aren’t performing anywhere I’ve gone this year, but your entertainment is appreciated. I’m sorry to hear your people are getting more abusive shit than usual–can’t say I’ve seen that here, but I’m sorry you’re getting it.

  102. You forgot to mention that wanker, Stephen Miller.

    That’s okay. If I ever do a monster under the bed book I want my monster to look just like him.

    Other than that I can only agree with a big sigh.

  103. @floored: I hear you about your escapism-resources no longer working. It’s especially tough when you don’t have the time or emotional resources to actively seek out something new when what you really want is just to spend some time with familiar fictional friends who, y’know, maybe save the world sometimes. My current solution is fanfic. Go to AO3, play around some, you’ll find people writing (for free) anti-fascist superheroes and idealistic Star Trek and all sorts of things. Some amazing writers post there. It’s not all queer romance novels in space, either (though you will find that. Also queer baristas in space. And random college towns. And archetypal New York. Lotsa baristas in fanfic). Pretty much any mainstream franchise you pick, you’ll find someone writing as though they love the characters & fictional worlds they’re spending time in and believe in emotions other than anger, violence, & despair.

    Also. You matter. Please stick around. Maybe consider calling a hotline or talking to someone.

  104. In one of the world’s biggest jokes on us personally, my husband, who received the best review in his company in December, was fired on Inauguration Day. After six months, he managed to find a comparable job, but we had to sell the home we loved in the city we loved and move. At our ages (too young for Medicare but too old to compete in many markets), we spent those six months in a state of complete panic. I kept wondering if my inability to just freaking deal with things was due to our personal situation or the political situation. We’re now settled in a new home in a new city, and though I no longer lie awake wondering if we’re going to end up living under a bridge, I now lie awake wondering if my whole country is going to end up living under a bridge. Or living at all. It is comforting to read here all the comments from other people whose lives haven’t been personally overturned in the last year, but who are just as pissed off and overwhelmed as I am. Thank you!

  105. Thank you for this. I can’t even stand to write a blog post these days. I can’t imagine if writing were my daily bread. {hug}

  106. I’m in London, England, and it’s getting to me. And as Charlie Stross noted, we have Brexit poisoning the communal well also. I’m glad you are writing, and I’m glad we get the pet pics; they really do help…

  107. I’m the editor/reporter for a one-person newspaper in the Interior of British Columbia, which means not only not tuning out the news, but writing thousands of words a week (even a 12-page paper means a lot of blank real estate to fill on my own, and there are only so many photo essays I can run in a week). Even for me up in Canada, I’m finding it harder and harder each week to focus on writing, what with the spectre of World War III looming, and Trump picking trade fights with us (softwood lumber, Bombardier, and wine sales are the three latest, with dairy production on the horizon and of course the whole NAFTA thing). It is just so draining.

  108. I’m going through the same thing. I have a novel I’m working on, but by the time I go through addressing the issues of the day, I don’t have the energy left for fiction words. I’ve been an activist all my life because I’m part of communities that are on the fringes of society, and I have words — they’re my thing. I have the ability to express myself, and I feel a responsibility to speak up because I have words where other people don’t. But it’s sapping my creativity to have every single day where something triggers my need to speak. I feel like speaking up has been productive, but it’s not productive in a way that supports my creative side — and I depend on my creative side to have a life. So it’s a horrible conundrum.

  109. This. So much this. Most days my feeds look like they’re run by someone with schizophrenia, as my topics bounce from frothing-at-the-mouth rage at the latest load of crap to come down the pipeline to videos of otters and goats at play (not necessarily in the same video, though I would pay good money to see that).

    I’m glad it’s not just me, and yet I’m sad it’s not just me either. Thank you for putting it into perspective. If it helps at all, one of my friends pointed out that we are the people who create. We’re not just creative, we bring something good into this world, make it better. We build instead of destroy, make things move forward instead of back. We create positive thoughts and energy that will always spread farther than we think. We create better versions of ourselves, and help others grow that way too. We create stories, crafts, art, discussions, pictures, and so much more, and bring joy to others through what we do.

    I find her view very soothing when I feel like chucking it in. I remind myself the world needs me to go out there and put a little good energy back into it.

  110. @anotherLaura, believe it or not, I went through the same thing. Fourteen years with the same company, with nothing but Exemplary ratings — and then, in January, right after the Inauguration (literally — the Monday after!) I was laid off from my job. I’d been working with a disability for a while, but it was serious enough now that nobody wanted to pick me up — I’m still working on getting my disability. Then, well, a heart attack and a hurricane, and here we are. Fortunately, I have caring family-of-choice who have been exceptional through all of this, or I’d be in far worse shape than I am.

  111. Thanks for making me reread “Being Poor” again.
    And reposting it to torment and entertain my friends.
    It has to be in the top 10 things that you have written.

  112. Elizabeth Moon –

    Don’t know if you’ll come back to these comments or not, but I must tell you that I have read each and every one of your books and enjoyed them mightily. And Speed of Dark spoke deeply to me, since I’ve a son on the spectrum.

    I look forward to your next Vatta book, and hope that finishing it is easier for you than you fear right now. When it comes out, I’ll buy it. Thanks for all your writing.

  113. What you and other creative people do is not frivolous. It is creating a shelter for their fans for a few hours a day from the mayhem that is the world today. When the evening news is too much to bear, we can retreat into a world were good and evil do battle and good wins. Thank you for that shelter.

  114. My plan was to go to sleep and find out the election results in the morning. But I peeked around 9pm and couldn’t stop after that. I realized at 12:30am that he’d won and I had to make a run for the bathroom. I ended up being hospitalized in December because I hadn’t been able to keep anything down. I had a major panic attack when I heard about Bannon – it took my husband and my mother to talk me out of packing up the kids and heading for Canada (we’re Jewish and my great grandparents died in Auschwitz). We got the kids passports and still have go bags in our closet.

    If I didn’t have children, I probably wouldn’t get out of bed. Ever. But, my 3 year old daughter will only play by herself for so long before she is nose to nose with me, wondering “Mama, when you wake up?” The news creeps in no matter what I do and as a SAHM, staying off social media makes me too isolated.

    I have some stories that need to be polished up and submitted, but by the end of the day, I feel like all I’m good for is sitting on the couch. I’m incredibly grateful my writing isn’t how I make a living, because I think I would be under a bridge.

    And even if he is a one termer (pleasepleaseplease), I’m not sure if that will change anything for me. I’m scared now, in a way I wasn’t before. I believed in the system and it broke pretty spectacularly, so now what?

    @floored – I’m a mother and I highly doubt your parents want you to do that. They would rather have you than time or money. Please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255, before you do anything drastic

  115. Wendig recently had some great thoughts about this. He reminded us, as several have done in this thread, that entertainment, escapism, fun, respite, are not frivolous in these times. They help us renew and refresh and clear our heads so that we can do the work after a break. That really helped me.

    Thank you for the post, Mr. Scalzi. Thank you for being here.

  116. I’m at a point where I worry next month’s NaNoWriMo writing project isn’t going to help, that I’m not going to find the inspiration to keep writing to 50,000 words.

    I’ve started five different short story or novel ideas this year, and after a few days the enthusiasm disappears and the writers block kicks in, especially because I cannot look away from the train wreck that is the trump era.

    There’s a couple of fellow writers at a group I meet with locally, who’ve admitted they’re in the same shape. One woman breaks down into tears when she talks about how terrified she is about the world falling apart.

    At least this helps. This article reminds us that even professional writers get confounded by the real world.

    I wish everyone good luck with your writing projects. To anyone doing NaNo, good luck getting to 50k.

  117. It helps to remember that we will win in the end. That’s not optimism, its history. Look at conditions in 1820 and 1220 and 720 and 2020 BCE for instance. By all indicators things are steadily getting better. The tide of evolution is toward good. The curve is not a gentle sweep upward but a jagged ragged climb. So yes, the downward plunges can be scary up close but we can always know that when we become aware of bad behavior it becomes unacceptable a few decades later. The tide of evolution is with us. It helps somehow to realize that the evil we see today will be swept away as our culture evolves. Get a good look at these freaks now because their kind cannot last.

  118. Fiction is never frivolous. Escape. Joy. Inspiration. We need these now more than ever.

    Thanks, John.

  119. Add me as another person with the same issues. Writing, art, etc. The only thing that makes it better is to get away from it all or go ride my horse. But with a middle-aged horse and a late-middle-aged rider, not much that can be done…sigh.

  120. Stormweaver 884-Bless you, and I hope you get your disability. My husband and I tried to stay positive for each other, but our anxiety level was so high that even the smallest snag in the day could throw us into fight-or-flight mode (on one particularly bad day, I had a panic attack because I couldn’t find my shoes. Really!). Thank you for sharing! For us, life is finally getting better, but we’re both now very aware, on a visceral level, that a nice, secure life can be upended on a moment’s notice, even if you’re doing everything right. And just for the record, in the first three months of 2017, every single person over 50 in my husband’s previous company was fired, frequently for the flimsiest of excuses. My sweetie was fired for an IT offense, even though he had received the IT department’s blessing before he did it. “Oh, we don’t do that anymore! Didn’t you get the memo?” Grrrr….

  121. William ember beat me to part of what I wanted to say to Charlie Stross – when the hell is Bob going to sort out CASE NIGHTMARE APRICOT? I know most people think that the US is outside the Laundry’s remit but it’s worth remembering the termination clause in the original AmExit agreement – if the experiment fails, control reverts to the Crown.
    And more generally I take much comfort from listening to my collection of Abney Park music; in particular I try to live by this thought – https://youtu.be/puIhUyRqwGg

  122. These posts of yours do help. I’m not in a creative profession, but the world these days is…something.

  123. As one of the people who fought the Trump depression/anxiety and just won – the fog has finally lifted – I want you, JOHN, to know that a coping mechanism for me was reading – Going to meet you on your book tour for Colopsing Empire with my daughter made me feel normal. It is nice to know that you are grounded, yet able to imagine amazingly vivid places and what is even harder write them for us (the masses) to enjoy. I realized the in listening to you that on of the most effective things – The machine – had done was always put “us” on the defensive. They do it very well. They are also dropping like flies. I plan to make a lot of money off writing fueled by people who need break from this shit. I decided this is my time. If you need to write about political crap – please make sure you are getting paid in burritos… looking forward to a time when an ACLU donation is not what I want for the Holidays, Sharon – Brunswick – Ohio

  124. Thank you for this. As someone who was already questioning the value of their words, the past 9 months have left me feeling…voiceless. I still blog–more sporadically than ever–but what used to be an eclectic blog with some serious political posts is now just about only political, and I know it isn’t a fun escape for readers anymore. None of this shit is funny.
    Initially I was able to use the world around me to get started on the needed complete rewrite of an old manuscript, but the day after day cumulative of what feels like an unrelenting assault…well. I’ve stalled out, and frankly, it doesn’t feel like it matters.
    OTOH, I’ve been reading nonstop. Good fiction has been and continues to be so, so necessary. Write as slowly as you need to, because yes, we’re all living in a new and ever-shifting normal, but words matter. Fiction matters. Voices matter.

  125. I own a veterinary hospital in San Antonio. Many of my clientele are Hispanic. I have no idea if they are US citizens. I dont ask for citizenship papers and the day I am forced to I ….. it is even too hard to imagine that day but I fear it’s coming.

    We had been growing steadily every year but this year we have not. We have many more slow days.

    I also feel shame and regret. I feel bad that I will be leaving such a mess to my children and grandchildren. I’m afraid for them. How could I have prevented this?

    I worry that the government will see some of my anti Trump Facebook posts and possibly target me in the future, which, in any other year, would be laughable, because my stuff is pretty benign. I’m not into violence, threats or hate speech.

    Thanks for writing your blog because I think it is the way a lot of us are feeling.

    We are all dragging this year.

  126. My relatives are feeling this way. They were kinda annoyed with me when I gave up American citizenship to marry a Canadian and move north, but they’ve been increasingly bummed out since the start of the year. I don’t see it getting better soon.

    My cousin told me that what gets her down is the idea that Trump is a symptom, not a cause. If it was just him, then okay fine, we can outlast him. But if he’s a symptom, then there are real nasty things lurking just below the surface, and someone out there taking notes and watching, waiting for their turn and determined not to make Trump’s mistakes.

  127. Thank you. Just, thank you, for putting into words many things I’ve been struggling with since November 2016… And actually probably since Trump got the GOP nomination. Constant, recurring trauma-inducing and trigger events.

  128. The ghostwritten fiction is at least getting done, though it is really, really late. My own fiction languishes. Pretty much everything except hiking and family feels pointless. There’s too much consumption of the news, particularly via Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert. My usual “So I will continue writing fiction just to spite you!” reaction to outside forces is not working. It helps to know I’m not alone and haven’t suddenly forgotten how to create. Thank you for writing this.

  129. AND I just came here from seeing a picture of President Dotard throwing paper towels to the peasants, and congratulating them on not having as meany dead people as New Orleans did, while also pointing out how the relief effort is wrecking our budget, while before that I read the person he wants for EPA says toxins don’t affect children as much, so we can increase its use on crops, etc.!!!! so I get what you are saying. It makes me want to eat comfort foods and read escapist things with no social commentary included and just curl up and HIDE. My daughter had a baby girl yesterday, and I keep thinking I need to tell her as she grows up to learn a foreign language and move to a civilized country and get the freaking hell out of here. I’m so happy to hold her and see her and I am so filled with fear for her future as our President just wrecks us.

  130. jenfullmoon – thank you for your post.

    As street character performers, we have an more direct relationship with our guests, which is part of the attraction for most of us – it’s a direct intimate and personal connection, with no footlights or “fourth wall” between us. But that also exposes us more directly to the kind of negativity that seems to be on the rise this year.

    We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, but it’s much harder work now.

  131. Thank you. I live with a shitty chronic health condition, so banging out one good novel per year is a hell of an achievement for me, even when the world isn’t on fucking fire. This year? Well. Yeah.

  132. Thank you, thank you! I went through the last part of 2016 and half of 2017 on antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs and am only now able to get back to (some) writing. The best times I’ve had this year have been going to a march or taking some other kind of useful political action, which I should be doing anyway, but that doesn’t get the writing done.

  133. Floored, with respect and affection, I have to tell you that your goddam brain is lying to you. DEPRESSION LIES. I’ve been on antidepressants for years; the trouble is finding the right one.

    Don’t give in. Total strangers (including me) are wishing you well from across the Whateververse, which spans the globe. Don’t harm yourself. Call on the resources many others have cited.

    If you need to actually talk to someone voice to voice, I’m willing to be here for you. We’ll have to figure out some way to get you my number, but that’s a solvable problem.

  134. Nine months in we are, you note in the post, John. I understand your point. Your internal plans for writing must adjust to this new normal to be effective and on point. I had retired last December from a 44 year long professional career in Acounting and Education. My adjustment was to sign another contract in August to return to teaching high school sophomores a wee bit of English language arts. Now my days are filled with things to do and there are no news-feeds in my classroom. Unfortunately, I will retire again next June (the energy demands of this task are just too much at my age). Then what? Hmmn. Might be time for some extended overseas travel for, say, three years or so. Yeah, that very well may work. Or at least the planning, then the trip; then the planning and the next trip; and so on for three years. Yes, I can make that work and pretty much ignore the news-feeds while Trump presides and tweets into the ether.

  135. Floored, here’s how to contact me if you need to:
    1. Create a Twitter account if you don’t already have one.
    2. Follow me (@Halftongue).
    3. Tweet “@Halftongue I am floored.”

    I will then follow you and DM you my phone number. No strings, no anything, just someone to listen and give feedback if desired. I’m not a professional, but I’m a good listener.