Michael J. Martinez: How To Write While The World Burns

Here, Mighty Michael Martinez talks about something I know that plagues all of us writers — at least all of us with brains in our heads, hearts in our chests, and eyes to see — which is, how the hell do we do it now? The world seems so desperately dipshitty, how do we manage? Here is his take on that very question:

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Like pretty much every writer I know, 2017 has been exceptionally unkind to my focus and productivity. I’ll settle in for a good bout of word-slinging and, oh, I’ll just check Twitter for a second and – OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING NOW.

*four hours of news roundups, angry tweets and nausea go by, followed by Firefly marathons and junk food*

I mean, I’ve even watched Phantom Menace again to distract me from it all.

And yet, deadlines beckon. The second book in my MAJESTIC-12 series, MJ-12: Shadows, is out there now, and book three ain’t gonna crawl out of my brainpan unaided. And I have a day job and a family that, by all reports, continues to enjoy my presence. Rage and sorrow is a massive time sink. Cold, man, but true.

So what to do?

Initially, just after the election, I figured I’d do the one thing I do tolerably well – write. I had this idea spring into my mind that was pretty much fully-formed and ready to go onto the page, a dystopic vision of a future with a foundation of the sort of crap we’re seeing in the headlines now, augmented with technology and capitalism run amok and…

I couldn’t write it. I started to, but I was so freakin’ angry and scared for my future and for my daughter’s future, I was paralyzed. Somewhere on my hard drive is about 10,000 words of background and draft that are gathering electron-dust.  I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to it, because I really would hate to be one of those writers who, decades later, folks go, “Man, was he ever prophetic.” I don’t want that world, not even as a warning or a cautionary tale, and certainly not as a visionary blueprint of socio-political horrors.

I learned something about myself as a writer: I can’t write from a place of rage. Can’t do it. I just get all ripped up inside and basically get word-constipation. Took weeks of staring at blank screens to get over it. And you know what, that’s OK? Some folks can pour the piss and vinegar right into the work, and I salute them. That ain’t me.

So after figuring that out, I started outlining the third MAJESTIC-12 book, which is coming out next year, because I’m under contract and, while the folks at Night Shade Books are lovely, I don’t want to test their forbearance too badly, you know?

I wish I had a super-concise, awesome answer to that whole question of how to write while everything goes sideways. I don’t. There’s been a lot of fits and starts, and my usual methodical, disciplined words-every-day process has been replaced by frenetic bursts of writing and weary-ass screen-staring. But it’s getting done.

And there are definitely aspects of this book series that mirror my values and ideals, as I think most of our writing does on some level. These books are set in the late 1940s, and I’ve tried to tackle the racism and sexism inherent in those years as honestly as I can. I’ve tried to talk about geopolitical power and the myriad ways the United States screwed up the world via ill-considered covert action.

Yes, MJ-12: Shadows is still a spy thriller with superpowers. It’s still fun. I want it to be fun. But it’s also me, and so I’m gonna tackle that stuff alongside the gadgets and high-powered abilities and wham-bam-kaplooie. To ignore the issues of the era is, to me, just disingenuous. It’s not rage-filled, capital-R Resistance, but it’s what works for me.

So my own answer is to get down to it and create the adventures that my readers seem to like from my work, all while making sure that the ideas behind it and the values I believe in are reflected therein – without overshadowing the story, of course, because ultimately, the story is paramount. That’s it. No silver bullet. Sorry.

Oh, and one more thing. I get that writing about spaceships or elves or super-spies or whatever may seem frivolous in times like these. I’ve been there, man. We should be out there donating, marching, calling representatives – spending our time better, right? And yeah, I’ve done those things as well, and I’d encourage y’all to do that too.

But writing really does matter. I had a reader reach out on social media recently just to tell me that reading one of my books was a welcome respite from all the craziness out there. And wow, let me tell you, that was something. I hadn’t really thought of my stuff that way, and it was incredibly awesome to hear that.

I wrote 2,000 really good words that day.

So yeah. It’s OK to be angry, scared and/or discouraged at the world – or your own personal stuff, for that matter, because life throws curveballs all the damn time. Do what you gotta do to get you through it. Watch crap movies or call your reps. Donate, cry, march, hide, scream. Take care of yourself. But know that when you get back to the keyboard, you have a chance to bring stories to life that can help people think about a better future, or get some solace from a rough present.

Saddle up, wordpeople.

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Michael J. Martinez: Website | Twitter

MJ-12: Shadows: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

15 comments

  • I have actually been writing even more, but writing a character who (forgive me for using this word) trumps evil in the end has helped me deal with the anger and frustration. That and playing a helluva lot of Skyrim.

  • Thank you so much, Michael! As a European I’ve been there myself, starting out all determined to address the maddening crazyness in the world. Not as the main plot, but as something that surely would have effect on my characters. I found out I couldn’t do it. It’s still in there to an extent, but with a lot less emphasis and that’s what it’s going to be. I have been feeling guilty about this ever since I finished my first draft. Your post is giving me great relief!

  • Yep, word constipation is a thing. Suffering from it myself. I wish I had the talent to write satire but my YA paranormal doesn’t lend itself to political commentary without being painfully obvious. But thanks for this post. At least I know I’m not the only one feeling angry and confused and powerless.

  • September 7, 2017 at 1:55 PM // Reply

    So what to do. Get it on the page, whatever comes through your unique chemistry and talents and observations. Get it on the page any way you can. Thanks for the essay. I’m slogging along. I will keep working, and write without knowing what I am writing about, and see what sticks.

  • Thanks, Michael—your advice is hitting all the right buttons with this visual artist as it obviously is with the writers on this board, and can apply to any creative. We all have to do whatever it takes to balance the rage we feel about what’s happening outside our creative spaces and the desire to create visions that can help everyone stay clear and balanced.

  • Thank you for this. I’ve honestly been struggling with writing anything at all since November — while I did finish the one thing I’ve had in progress, I’ve mostly been failing at getting any momentum on other stuff ever since. I’ve only just recently been clawing my way out of that pit, though the world is still an intensely scary place. It’s comforting to know other people are feeling the same and working their way through.

  • Compelling and timely piece, Michael. It’s about to become even MORE so thanks to Irma and Jose and [insert whatever dickish and brainless thing Trump/North Korea is going to do or say today and tomorrow and the next day…].

    I wrote a similar piece a while back you might enjoy—as much as one can enjoy things amidst the literal and figurative shit-storm that has commandeered the present day. Call me an optimist. Here’s the link:

    http://greglevin.com/scrawl-space-blog/everybody-write-for-your-lives

    Thanks for the reminder to use our words while losing our minds.

    Best,

    GL

  • Michael, this was fantastic. I’m definitely saving this post and coming back to it when my brain continues to try and override my heart, which it’s been doing uncannily well since November. Keep writing!

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