(This post is going to have some amount of spoilers for This Is How You Lose The Time War, so if you don't wan't to be spoiled on that, stop reading here. It's a fantastic book, promise.)
I grew up, in a sense, on the Something Awful Dot Com forums. It's inarguable that if I hadn't been there, I wouldn't have met some of the people I did, I wouldn't have developed the political opinions I do, I might've not ever realized that I'm a girl. I might've fallen in with 4chan or some other god-awful site. But I definitely wouldn't recommend it to anyone, because it left me with a vicious streak a mile wide when it came to making fun of other people's creative work. I used to love tearing down the output of amateur authors or artists, even the ones that were just writing or drawing for themselves and hoped the rest of the world might like it. I'd never even intended to publish it, but when I do something, I want to do it well, and the self-criticism feeds on that.
So, naturally, when I decided that I wanted to start writing, I ran into a problem. Even though I'd realized SA's utter toxicity several years back and had stopped paying any attention, I still had that voice in the back of my head, telling me that everything I wrote wasn't Good Enough. That I should be ashamed to even think of publishing it someplace where someone else could see it.
And 'worst' of all, that it was 'too self-indulgent'. Because I like writing stories with happy endings, stories with robot protagonists, stories with trans female characters that get what they want. On some level, of course, I knew there wasn't anything wrong with that: when I read something from an author I liked, I didn't feel that same sort of shame at their work. But the published authors I read that had fiction that took place in that same high-tech utopia tended to write heterosexual romance, if any. I love Iain M. Banks and his Culture works, but I can't think of a single hint of gay attraction in that entire series.
And that inner critic just wouldn't shut up. My writing was bad, it was escapist bullshit, infantile, people would make fun of me and they'd be right to do so. It sucked. I wrote anyway, somewhat, but it definitely put a huge dent in my creative impact. I was constantly editing myself as I went, because nothing ever felt like it was good enough. And even worse, I was editing other people's work as I was reading it, thinking about how bad some word choice was, how I'd do things different, how I'd do things better. (Yes, I'd both think that I'm an awful writer and that I'm way better at writing than other people. Depression and impostor syndrome don't have to be rational.)
Then, one day, my girlfriend gave me a copy of This Is How You Lose The Time War as we were walking through a bookstore. It's a book about two time-traveling agents from alternate versions of the future: Red is from the Agency, all machine perfection. Blue is from the Garden, a holistic bioengineered paradise. (You can imagine which one I prefer, of course). They start tracking each other through their time-traveling war, and leaving each other letters in ways they hope their handlers won't find: the bubbles of water in an MRI machine, the guts of a slain bird.
My girlfriend had read it before me, and from her reactions I could tell she loved it. So I started reading it, and holy shit. Purple prose love letters, luxurious descriptions of powerful technology we can only begin to imagine. Either one of the protagonists could easily smash a tank bare-handed. For someone like me that has daydreams about being an invulnerable combat robot, it was like catnip.
Not only that, but Red and Blue completely fall for each other over the course of the story. And unlike so much of the WLW stories I'm used to in media where I have to settle for a smirk and a half-glance and a 'what-if' in my head and in fanfiction, they actually confess their love to each other. They talk about how much they want to be with each other, how much they love each each other, and so on. It's an actual explicit love story!
And as I was reading it, I realized: this is exactly the sort of self-indulgent stuff my inner critic would chastise myself for writing it if I wrote it. And yet here it is, an actual published book, (a Nebula finalist even!). Sure, my prose isn't as good as Time War's, but the concept is something I'd absolutely write, something I'd love. And of course I'm not as good of an author as actual, professional, published authors; it'd be an insult to them to think that I would be! And so my inner critic actually shuts the hell up for a moment and lets me work.
I don't want to make it seem like this has magically fixed everything, of course. My creative output's still slow. This shame wasn't the only thing holding me back; I still have motivation issues, ADHD, and a host of other bullshit. Writing is still a hard thing to get done; even writing this blogpost has taken me over a week, when it "should have" only taken me a couple days. But I've been shutting down that inner critic every chance I get, and I've been helping my other girlfriend write a story about a combat robot rescuing her amnesiac human-disguised girlfriend off ancient Earth over the past few months. She's been doing all the pen-to-paper work, but I've spent hours and hours plotting it with her. And if I hadn't read Time War, if I hadn't dropped off so much of my shame, that work would be a lot harder.