The Writer’s Parasite

Randy Son of Robert

The Infection Begins

It starts somewhere with something simple, something almost innocent. A stray thought: “I’m not that good at writing anyway.” “I’ll write later, when I have more time.” “Writing is self-indulgent.” “I’ll focus on more important things for now.”

Next thing you know, that thought has sent out tendrils into every corner of your mind and being. It drains your energy and uses it to grow, taking up space that used to belong to your inspiration and enthusiasm. It sucks you dry. It takes the words you were going to use to write, and twists them so they tell you what a failure you are.


Is it Resistance?

Resistance happens whenever you’re doing something worthwhile. It sneaks up and asks, “Who are you to do this thing? It’s too important, too grand, and you are nothing.” If that doesn’t work, it says, “This is worthless. This work is pointless.” If that doesn’t work, it says, “This will be too controversial. Do you really want to spend your whole life fighting not to be censored?”

I’ve felt a lot of Resistance to writing the novella I’m currently working on. “These characters are too young to be having sexy thoughts. You will get in trouble,” it says. “This story has been told a thousand times. No one wants to read it,” it says. “This story is too feminist. If you publish it, you’ll get labeled one of those Feminist writers, and no one will ever read anything you write ever again,” it says, spitting as it speaks. “It’s not feminist enough. People will think that you’re advocating for the fembot revolution,” it says. “It’s boring. It drags. There’s no conflict. No wonder you don’t want to write it,” it says.

No wonder I don’t, when my Parasite says things like that.


The Tendrils Extend

But it’s not just this novella. This voice isn’t content to disparage my work in progress. It is telling me not to bother planning the fantasy series that has been struggling to get out of my head for most of my life. It’s just another fantasy series, and the world doesn’t need it. And it’ll never make me any money anyway.

This blog? No one cares. In fact, this blog is a pox on the Internet, just clogging up the tubes with its worthlessness. Who am I to tell other people to write when I can’t even do it myself?

Who am I to do anything? To try new things and maybe fail? I can’t even write a tiny little novella.

Every time I sit down to create, the Parasite goes on and on about how I’ll never make anything worthwhile. So I don’t.


Is There a Cure?

I can tell you about lots of treatments that don’t help.

They tell you to show up. You sit in front of the page for two hours. You don’t have to write, but you can’t do anything else. You sit in front of that page for two hours and let the Parasite berate you. Let it tell you everything that’s wrong with you. That’ll help, for sure.

They tell you to write something different. Write something silly, throwaway, unimportant. So that the Parasite can use that as further evidence against you. If you even succeed despite it’s litany.

They tell you to write through it. To let the words be bad, to come back and fix them later. But every bad word added to the pile is further ammunition.

I have tried listening to it. Letting it say what it has to say, and trying to argue logically with it. But it isn’t logical. You can argue all you like, but it will just repeat its points over and over until you have exhausted your will to fight.

There are treatments that help, a little.

It helps to name it for what it is, but that isn’t a cure.

It helps to admit how it’s hurting you, but that isn’t a cure.

It helps a little to write about it, like I’m doing now. But it also hurts, because then you associate writing with more pain.

It helps to disidentify as a writer for a while. To call yourself something else, to put your dreams on the shelf and say you’ll come back to them later. And maybe you will, but is it really worth it? And there’s no guarantee you won’t be reinfected as soon as you pick up the pen again.


I Wish I Had an Answer

But I don’t. Do you?


  1. I’m honestly not even sure it’s a single parasite. To extend your metaphor, it’s more like a whole genus of protozoans, each with a different target and a different cure, and what works on one may make another worse…

    I was going to write a long, drawn out thing about how everyone feels somewhat this way and no one really knows what he or she is doing but… Amanda Palmer said it better than I can at this hour:

  2. Ugh, I’d rather believe it was one thing with one cure. But while that would make me feel better, I certainly don’t have any evidence that it’s true. And some people seem to be more resistant to some kinds of badfeelings than other people, so perhaps you have a point.

    About being a fraud… one time I was having a terrible piano day. The notes were coming out wrong, not when I wanted them, and usually more of them than I wanted, if I even found the right one. I was super frustrated, and my frustration was getting all over the keys and my fingers and further fucking up the music. Then, my piano teacher said, “Try this. Pretend that you’re a professional piano player, that you do this all the time, that people love your music so much that they pay to hear you, and play it again.” I did, and it was orders of magnitude better. I’m not sure I even have the words to convince you how much better it was. It was amazing. Then he said, and this is the part that I can’t stop thinking about, “I’m going to let you in on a secret. Professional musicians are pretending, too.”

    But, I think that’s a different creature, because when I ask what a super-popular badass author would do, I can only come up with solutions that make me feel bad. See “treatments that don’t work,” above.

    Anyway, I think the writing problems are a side-effect of something more fundamental. And I’m sure they’ll go away once I get it sorted out.

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