Toward Prevention of Brain Scarring

Having had some barricades against the internet for a few days now while I work on deadlines, I’m feeling recharged and refreshed. I think that in addition to the whole idea of having too many open channels in your mind at times because of the e-world, there’s something to be said for not being open to lots of ideas in the course of the day. That may sound ridiculous, for a writer, but the fact is that there is so much contradictory information and advice on the internet, so many emphatically stated viewpoints about issues related to writing, that you can freeze yourself in your writing just by being exposed to too much—by internalizing…everything. As advice also trends toward righteousness and offering up moral judgment, too, a kind of binary us/them rises up that isn’t useful even when you agree with a position. And not only do we have too much writing advice out there, and assign too much authority to the opinions of members of the blogosphere for no particular reason…we also have this seemingly self-destructive need to revisit information and opinions we don’t actually agree with, but that still infect us. And so you wind up wasting a lot of mental effort that could go to the writing circling back over issues that in the grand scheme of things aren’t useful to your writing. While nursing the low-grade fever of a mind-virus that can only fade if you don’t keep re-infecting yourself. You’re not required to do so, contrary to a kind of underlying belief that all of this ephemeral stuff, forgotten in a week, matters.

For those who say we should engage with the world, I would say: I indeed want to engage with the world, but I’m less and less sure I want to engage with the narrow sliver of it represented by the resounding confidence of the majority of opinion pieces out there in the e-sphere, on any side of an issue. Certainty is not useful to fiction, and I am always wary of those who are certain. Fiction writers who are infected by too many received ideas, fed by too many received ideas, tend to turn out clichéd work over time, too. I think all of us, myself included, need to seek out complexity, subtlety, nuance, and associated impulses. (Slow blogging as a concept is beginning to attract me more and more as a result.)

The meat world at least regulates the flow of Too Much to something manageable, while providing useful additional context. This also seems to me more conducive to building community and mutual respect, having a balance, because unfortunately, as we see in politics and basically all areas, the expression of beliefs on the internet seems to be dividing us and emphasizing our differences more and more, sharpening our ideological edges so that we often cut ourselves while trying to cut others…which makes it harder to actually get things done and to be proactive…often on the very issues everyone is so passionate about.

And with that, I’m gone again!

8 comments on “Toward Prevention of Brain Scarring

  1. Carl V. says:

    So much truth here, Mr. Vandermeer, and put very concisely too. Thanks for sharing this. Remove the references to “writing” and what you say is very true of the internet experience in life in general. While it is wonderful on so many levels to have such rich and varied access to information, it can also clog the pores and lead to a life in which more time is spent defending one’s positions and refuting those of others that you lose precious moments of life in which you could be making art, whatever that art may be in your own life. And contradictory information can cause you to have brain meltdown. There is just too much of it. I’ve noticed that over the last several months as I’ve been working on my physical health and making positive life changes. It eventually reaches a point where you have to step back and acknowledge that as an adult with a good degree of common sense I just need to move forward and make progress and unplug from all the contradictory voices out there.

    I feel the same way when it comes to fiction. More than most things I love sharing about those books that have made an impression on me. If a short story or a novel ignites a passion in me I want to share that experience with others. But when it devolves into an argument about the merits of that fiction I find myself wanting to run and hide while at the same time feeling a righteous indignation to stay and duke it out. Neither are very profitable in the long run and I hate to think of the time I’ve wasted on those words that mean so very little.

    If authors finding balance and unplugging once in awhile means they are getting more work done, and better work done, then I want to sign up to champion the cause. It means we all win.

  2. Ben Godby says:


    Positive experiences can be creatively freezing, too. I’ve been reading “China Mountain Zhang” by Maureen F. McHugh the past two days and it’s so good I’m depressed.

  3. Dan Read says:

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

    Thank you, Jeff, for saying this, because I believe it is true in life also. Your words echo what I’ve been thinking a lot in recent years: that certainty is a cultural and social disease of our age (my perspective is from inside the US).

    Certainty’s ugly flip side is humiliation. Our culture has a fascination with humiliation, including often a voyeuristic enjoyment of seeing others humiliated. Certainty and humiliation feed on each other. They need each other. It reminds me of the Kafka story you and Ann included in The Weird, the persistent certainty of torture master.

    Somehow maybe it all boils down to collective narcissism… However you label it, the whole dynamic is draining for all participants, both passive and active. I too seek out people who strive to avoid certainty and its many expressions, and I too have found that the signal-to-noise ratio in this area online is a real challenge.

    Happy writing,

  4. yes, the whole shame/humiliation/guilt thing is long-established in US culture, and comes often I think from a kind of Puritanical impulse still pulsing inside of us, unfortunately. it tends to not be much use in actually doing useful and positive work.

  5. There are many e-spheres. I shy away from the overbearing and fruitlessly combative ones, like HuffPo, but have found some open-minded exchanges through Twitter and Blogspot. Insofar as we can collect and cultivate our internet communities, I believe there is the possibility for positive exchanges and a little of your healthy agnosticism, as well as putting some of our questions to a greater audience that can help hammer them out. Still, I don’t blame you with greater comfort in the meat space. Sometimes we all just have to be.

  6. jeff vandermeer says:

    Twitter’s your solution? LOL.

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