022 📻 You walk in the forest.

🚨 Assume there are spoilers everywhere. 🚨

The terror of not knowing what is going to happen next is one of the most freeing feelings for some creators. That is what I absorbed when I wrote “Undoing Cycles.”

Yes. My dear fellow absorbers. I still do not have an opening statement. Thus, we have, once more, jumped right into the topic of this episode. However, there is something new going on, which is that this time, my absorption did not happen from the works of other creators of this world. Nay, this time, my absorption happened from my own writing. It happened as I was writing one of my books, titled, Undoing Cycles.

Yes. One new thing at a time, folks. One new thing at a time. Maybe there will be an opening statement in the next episode. I don’t know. But for now, us talking about Undoing Cycles is the new thing. Ithaka talking about her own writing process is the new thing that we’re going to tackle in this particular episode.

It is the year 2023. It has been that for some time now, already. Can you believe it? It’s already been a month since it’s been 2023. And by using this transition of one calendar year to another—which is, quite random, if you think about it, but nevertheless also quite useful—I am trying to incorporate some ideas that you guys have given me, and also, just do what seems to make sense. 

The short story is that some folks were curious about how I write. And Sponge is at the stage, right now in early 2023, where the number of absorbers isn’t substantial. So, when you guys make suggestions, and I agree it’s a good idea, and also I am capable of doing what you suggest, then I am able to change directions quite quickly.

And added to that, it seems that—just from observing Youtubeland and other podcasts—in the end, humans listen to other humans. And it seems that one of the things that makes humans convey themselves more like humans to other humans is that… the human who wants to do the conveying simply shares what goes on in their human life, without much filtering, especially unnecessary filtering that has existed in the previous decades due to various gatekeepers or perceived cultural common sense that wasn’t very sensible.

By gatekeeping or perceived cultural common sense, I mean something like this. In the traditional spheres such as academia or mass media, I think it is still the norm to do either or. Either you create primary works or secondary works.

By primary works, I mean works that become the starting points of discussions. For example, a painting, a book, or a movie.

By secondary works, I mean works created around such primary works. Youtube reaction videos and podcasts like Sponge are such secondary creations.

And I’m saying, in the recent decade, more and more people have been actively sharing both their primary works and secondary works. These days, it doesn’t seem to matter as much that a person is doing both. One doesn’t need to pick one or the other. Not anymore. Some of you have pointed that out to me. Even so, doing both primary work and secondary work still does seem to happen less frequently than doing one of the two, perhaps now more due to reasons of personal preference than gatekeeping or a false cultural common sense.

Anyway, some folks were curious about how I write. Maybe to those folks, what makes me human is that I do both primary work and secondary work, and not only that, that I could do secondary work around my own primary work by talking about my own fiction. Maybe that is why you’re listening to me.

And that is why this episode exists. This episode is the secondary work on my primary work, Undoing Cycles, which is the second story I have ever written. It is a novel, a full novel—as in, not what I call a short novel. At 70,000 words, it is a full, good-length novel.

The interesting thing about Undoing Cycles, and why I thought I would start with this story as I begin the most lengthy and in-depth explanation, so far, of how I do what I do, is that  even though Undoing Cycles is the second novel I have ever written, it is not the second-oldest novel of mine in publication. It is the first-oldest, as in, the oldest, novel of mine in publication. Meaning, the book that existed before that? The first novel? That book is dead.

And I want to start by talking about that dead book before I talk about the book that still lives.

The dead book. I’m not gonna name it, because one day I might use the same title, same setting, and same characters, and write a completely new story. Even with the same title, setting, and characters, the story will be entirely different. It is bound to be different. I know this for a fact, even though both stories will have been written by the same person, me.

You know how I know? Because that dead book was written while I was listening to every single rubbish tip that floats around in the writing world, and I do not listen to such tips anymore.

By “every single rubbish tip,” I mean tips like “You must edit until you feel like vomiting on top of your printed pages.” Or “You must write slowly.” And the worst of all: “Since you’re a first-time author and you likely don’t know what you’re doing, you must first create a detailed outline and then write according to that outline.”

Now, before we continue, I want to emphasize this point. Or rather, these points.

One, the key here isn’t the editing or the slowness of the writing or the outlining. The key that all these rubbish tips have in common is that they contain the word “must.” Sure you can edit, you can write slowly, and you can outline. But “must”? Nah.

Anytime someone says you must do something, usually they’re wrong. Because, unless you are a really very boring person who exists literally smack in the middle of a friggin’ bell curve, your life will have specificities that the “must” worshippers have no idea about.

The second point I want to make is that, my following these rubbish tips doesn’t mean that the book was rubbish. Not at all. That is not why I killed that book. I killed that book because I also followed another rubbish tip, which was that “You must write in series, because series sell. And if you don’t write in a series, people will be uninterested, because people like long books, and not only that, they like long series with long arcs. So if you don’t write in a series, you can forget about ever making money as a writer. You will starve to death. You will always have to spend an inordinate amount of time on what’s called ‘the day job,’ and your writing will always be in the back seat, and you will be miserable, and so on and so forth.”

Yes, some of the tips going around are actually as extreme as this.

Having followed all these rubbish tips, I could not, simply could not write book 2 of that series. No way. That was the main reason I killed the book.

Nevertheless, it does not mean that the book was rubbish. And it’s not because oooh, “Ithaka is a writer, so she thinks her book is her baby.” No. No I absolutely do not think of my stories as my babies. I do not think about them in any human terms whatsoever, other than when, I guess, if someone is really insensitive about a creator and their creations, then I might use the term “baby” specifically to exaggerate, but, no, are you kidding? My stories aren’t my babies. It would mean that I have, like, twenty or thirty babies by now. And the number will only increase over time. How is that going to work?

Anyway, the reason the book is not rubbish is also not because I think I am a genius. No. No no no.

I just think it is bad bad BAD form for any creator in any field to diss their own work, especially in public. I believe it is an insult to the people who liked the work. It doesn’t matter if other people think it’s rubbish. It doesn’t matter if you the creator think it’s rubbish, secretly. Actually, it doesn’t even matter that truly, nobody in the world liked that particular work. None of that matters.

What matters is the principle. Never, ever minimize what you have done, especially not in public, ever. Again, it is an insult to people who like what you do. Dissing your work is entirely different from accepting feedback or learning or improving. Dissing your work is just dissing your work. Do not do that. Whether you make podcasts or write books or make movies or whatever, do not do that. Ever.

The thing that I hate from creators I love is, one, when they diss their own work and thereby indirectly tell me that I have poor taste. And two, when they say they do what they do for someone else, be it their fans, their parents, or their lovers.

I want them to do what they do for themselves, first and foremost, for the sheer joy of it. And I don’t expect them to brag about their work, but I expect them, at the minimum, to never ever ever EVER minimize their own work, and thereby the tastes of their own fans.

See. I always say, somewhat jokingly, that I know for a fact that my readers and listeners have excellent taste. But it isn’t really a joke. It’s a joke but it isn’t. It’s both. I know for a fact that you have excellent taste, if you are listening to this. Of course you have excellent taste. How else would you have even found this podcast?

Anyway. Yeah. Never diss your own work. That wasn’t the topic of this episode, but it deserves emphasizing.

And I guess I just added to the pile of “musts.” You must not do this. You must not do that. Or you must do this. Or you must do that.

So. If you don’t like my tip, ignore it. But. Look. I mean. What fan likes to be insulted, when all they did was to like someone’s work?

So. Again, the dead book. It got killed by me, its creator, because it was designed to be a part of a series but I couldn’t write a series. And the reason I couldn’t write a series was mainly this: I outlined that book. I outlined it to death, so much, so that there was no spontaneity in the writing process itself.

And. Look. Outlining can be a great tool. It helps many writers. But I am just not the outlining kind of writer, especially not the kind to outline before writing.

Now, you might be thinking, “what’s that supposed to mean? Aren’t all outlines for pre-writing? For before writing?”

No. Not necessarily. The only way I “outline”—in air quotes—is after having written. I’m not even sure if this counts as outlining. That’s why I usually say that I don’t outline.

Outlining before writing requires the writer to determine the plot points and such before they start writing the actual novel.

In contrast, outlining after writing, well, it happens after the novel-writing part. For example, if I wrote in the novel that the character’s hair is black, I jot it down after having written that, just so I can remember, just so later on, I don’t suddenly change the character’s hair to brown. But things like plot points that I have already written in the novel format, I usually don’t jot down in the outline, because… because it doesn’t require jotting down. I mean, if someone died in the story, for example, then most likely, I will remember. Plot points like that will stay in my head like big landmarks or a mountain on a map.

Do you see the difference here? The difference between outlining before writing versus outlining after writing and only when absolutely necessary?

When outlining before writing, you have a map going in to the novel writing world. The outlining self is the mapper. The novel writing self follows the map, more or less.

When outlining after writing, you don’t have a map. You first walk the road and then you map, and only if need be, because you’re not gonna walk the same road twice. I mean, character hair colors, sure, jot it down, but major plot points? No. They’re not gonna happen twice, so there is no need for a map. There is no outlining self who is the mapper. The novel writing self takes the road and the outlining self is more like… it’s less active. I wouldn’t call that outlining self a mapper. That outlining self is more like… someone who takes dictations, basically. Something very manual and brainless.

And… when I was writing my first book, the dead book, I didn’t even know that I was allowed to do this. It sounds ridiculous in hindsight, that I was subconsciously thinking about “being allowed” to do things, “being permitted” to do things. But really, I was thinking about those things. Possibly I was scared of writing a novel. Possibly I thought I was being humble by following the tips of the must worshippers, which is ridiculous. I don’t know. At any rate, I didn’t know that I was allowed to write without an outline. I thought it was impossible, for some reason.

But after having written that first book, the dead one, I knew that I could not do it again. If I did it again, I knew that all the remaining joy from the writing process would be sucked out of me, and I would never write again. As in, if I forced myself, I might be able to write a second book, but never a third book. Because, I hated, hated walking the road that I already knew. I hated having a map. I hated knowing the ending.

And even the outlining part—the pre-novel-writing outlining part—wasn’t that fun. Because it’s just an outline. It’s a skeleton. There is no flesh in an outline. If there’s to be flesh in an outline, if it were to be that detailed, why wouldn’t I just write it?

So, the dilemma that I faced after writing the now-dead book was… What do I do? Do I force myself to outline again, knowing that most likely, it would kill my writing soul? Or do I… what do I do?

How do I feel excited about writing again? Can I ever feel excited about writing again, when the experience of outlining and then writing to that outline almost killed my soul? And this was the case, even though I did modify the outline as I wrote that first book. It was a ridiculous process. I had an outline, began writing to that, and of course, inevitably, something organic, raw, and fascinating showed up in the story, and so I had to modify the outline, followed that for a while, and then, yet again, something organic, raw, and fascinating showed up, and… It was a mess.

Now. To get to the conclusion of my dilemma, what happened was that I did not outline the second book, Undoing Cycles. And ever since then I have not been outlining. Ever.

So. How did I suddenly find the courage to switch from writing with an outline to writing without an outline, despite all the rubbish tips I had heard up to that point, from all the must worshippers? Dean Wesley Smith happened to me. Yes. It’s a person. Dean Wesley Smith.

Dean is quite well-known in the writerly sphere. He is a veteran writer. I think he is… seventy years old? Or maybe older. And he’s been writing and publishing for decades. Maybe for half a century, by now. He’s been with traditional publishing, he’s been with indie publishing. Primarily, now, he is indie publishing and so is his wife and fellow writer, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Both Kris and Dean are great great GREAT resources for writers who are starting out, especially for writers who are looking for resources with not only writing experience, but also business experience. Basically, any writer who doesn’t want to sell their copyright for life—meaning, the copyright for however long the writer survives plus seventy years—any writer who isn’t into selling their copyright for life and at the same time selling their soul will want to read Kris and Dean’s blogs. A lot of their stuff is available for free. A lot of their stuff is available in book format.

And Dean. Back then, back when I was experiencing the dilemma of to outline or to not outline my second book… Dean gave me permission. He gave me permission not to outline. And not to me directly, no, but through all the knowledge that he puts out into this world, he gave me, as he does to other writers who are experiencing the same dilemma, permission to take the road without a map and do so boldly.

Dean blogs daily and he’s been doing so for over ten years, or some ridiculous number like that. On that blog, in one of the posts he talked about what he calls “Writing into the dark.” Later on, he put related blog posts together and turned it into a book by the same title. “Writing into the Dark,” this is his phrase for writing without an outline. It’s quite a beautiful phrase, if you think about it. Instead of going into the story with a flashlight, what he is comparing his writing method to is, well, writing into the dark.

You enter the writing not knowing where it is going to go.

And… Wow. This. This post and later, the book. It was the first time I had ever heard any working writer admit that they write into the dark. The first time ever that anybody explained it in such detail.

I mean, many writers talk about their writing processes and they say things like “read a lot” and “write a lot”—which are all true. But, truly, folks, I know of no other writer who created a well-organized system out of his writing process even while said writing process is kind of… the point of the writing process is that there is no system. No map, going in, at least. And yet what he teaches is so organized.

And it’s not that what he does is new. Dean would be the first one to tell you that Writing into the dark isn’t a process unique to him. Not at all. He never claims that he made up the process. Thus, he emphasizes this: what he is doing is giving permission to writers who aren’t familiar with this method.

And I can vouch that yes, indeed, what he did for me was give me permission. He allowed me to think that I could do what was best for me, and ignore all the worshippers of the word “must.” All those who throw around rubbish tips, not caring about individual specificities—Dean allowed me to absolutely ignore them.

And it was in thusly writing the second book, Undoing Cycles, without an outline, that I realized: the terror of not knowing what is going to happen next is one of the most freeing feelings for some creators.  And I am one such creator.

If you are one of the pervs like me, at some point, this terror might become the very reason you write.

You know, some folks get very stressed about the blank page. And I can imagine that it can get daunting. And so, to that, I say, well then, don’t let yourself see the blank page until the story starts spilling out of you. Don’t stare at the blank screen with the cursor blinking. Don’t sit down at all. Go physically take a walk or do the dishes.

And as you do, if you’re a writer, a seed will be planted, because what writers do is daydreaming. Any creator daydreams. Creators of all kinds. Artists, musicians, business owners.

Somewhere in your head, a seed will be planted. It can be anything. An intriguing phrase, a person, a place. And I call it “the seed” because I see it as something different from inspiration. I don’t like the word “inspiration” too much, because there is so much baggage attached to it. It makes it sound like it’s something special, like it only occurs once every year or something. But seeds are everywhere. They lie around everywhere. Maybe I’ll talk about turning a seed into a novel in a different episode.

But for now, a really short version:

Seeds are things like, “Why does that cat walking on top of that wall that separates that coffee shop from that woodworking factory have only three legs?” And from there, if you plant that seed, starts emerging a forest. With that cat, you go. No map. No flashlight. There is already so much here.

The wall is between a coffee shop and a woodworking factory. Are there heavy machinery in the woodworking factory? Is that where the cat’s one leg got cut off? Is the wound fresh? Is the cat limping, or is it, in typical feline fashion, maintaining perfect elegance despite not having a leg? Where is its owner? Is it black? Is that why someone cut off its leg intentionally?

You know. From that one seed sentence, you just walk.

And you keep walking.

Keep walking.

No outline, no flashlight.

And it might… I don’t know if I am making any sense here. Maybe it sounds all hooey. It is difficult to describe because… the point is that there is no map. Only you the writer of your specific story can map it. Nobody will walk that road until you map it, not through an outline, but through the writing of the story.

But here is a description that might help visualize this process of writing into the dark, or writing without a map.

So you’ve planted the seed. You are seeing all these possibilities of routes you could take within the forest. This is just like in the physical world. Right? When you enter a forest, you can take many directions. There might be a path that looks clearer than others, but also, there are shrubs. You could take your walk through the shrubs. It might be more difficult, but maybe you’ll find valuable mushrooms there, I don’t know.

But whichever direction you take, the important thing is that you must take one step. And then the next. And the next.

Another thing to remember is that, you can walk in circles. You’re allowed to do that. Maybe you won’t mark every circle on the map. Maybe you’ll only leave one of the circles at the end. But who cares. Nobody sees you walking around in the forest. Only you know. And this isn’t you wasting time. Not at all.

The point of taking a walk in a forest isn’t to get from the entrance to the exit in the shortest possible time, or in the most efficient way, or while spending the least energy. The point of taking a walk in the forest is for its own sake.

One of the reasons I hated outlining so much was that, with the outline as a map that was already complete, I could not enjoy the forest. I couldn’t look around. When I did look around and found something that was not already on that map, it was stressful, because I had to modify the map instead of just going and exploring the beautiful thing that I noticed in the forest.

So, the way writing into the dark, or walking into the forest works for me, is that… I am present. I am in the story. In the forest. It really does write itself. I might walk around in circles and I might delete some things, but… this… this isn’t even editing. I am still in the forest. I am not outside the forest and editing the completed map with a critical eye. All this is organic.

I walk in circles, I take backward steps, and sometimes, heck, the entrance of the forest is the exit. You know, stories like that can exist. You come back to where you began. And even then, because the point of the walk is simply to take the walk, returning to right where you began isn’t pointless. Therein lies the beauty of fiction.

Let’s get a little bit more specific now. Specifically for Undoing Cycles, I wrote chapter 1 before the prologue. In fact, I wrote multiple chapters before I realized that I needed the prologue and wrote it.

It’s again that idea of exploring the forest without a map. If you are taking a walk and there is a brook and the water flows too fast or it’s too cold or whatever, wouldn’t you attempt to find some stepping stones? I was doing that, for the writing. Instead of attempting to go in a straight line from the entrance of the forest to the exit on the other side, I did whatever was necessary to take the next step. There is no rule that the person taking a walk must take the most efficient road. And if the road is particularly beautiful, well, darn, then the person who takes the walk will just spend more time on that part than on the other parts.

So, instead of paying attention to the outline and “the path that I must take,” I was paying attention to the surroundings. To the forest. To the trees. To the leaves. To the soft ground underneath. Is there a particular smell? Strawberries? Rosemaries? Where does the light come from? Is there light at all? Is this a night forest? Is this a horror story?

And as to outlining after having written, here. I will read you the prologue as an example. Well, no. First, I will read the blurb, to give the overall picture.

Ignorance is bliss, knowledge is suffering…
…until you remember your past.

Seventeen-year-old Lisa manages the laundry at the hotel between worlds.
Has always managed, in the eternity stretching backward.
Will always manage, in the eternity stretching forward.

In other words, forever. Because that’s what the worker-residents of the hotel do for the recently-dead.

But Lisa’s “forever” ends when a mysterious guest awakens terrible memories.
Buried memories.
Memories about a murder.

“Undoing Cycles” Blurb

That was the blurb. The story happens at a hotel between worlds. A character thinks she is a worker there, managing the laundry there. She thinks she’s been there forever. But it turns out, she has memories from the past. She was murdered. Drama!

And now, the actual prologue. The very first pages of the book.

One of the two women in black returns to the table with a silver tray. She places it in front of you: on it, a black candy, and a gray one, both round.

The other woman in black already sits across from you and says, “Black to move on, like all others. Gray to forget temporarily, to stay and wait—until you meet your murderer again. Whatever you do at that point is up to you, on one condition: you cannot tell anyone what happened to you. If you do, you will lose the right to find your own justice; we won’t protect you from those who envy you, hurt you, or blame you. Also remember, you cannot undo your actions and must live with the consequences for an eternity thereafter. Now, pick a candy.”

You stare at the candies. Which one would you choose?

“Undoing Cycles” Prologue

As I’ve said, I wrote this prologue after having written the first few chapters. I didn’t know where I was going when I was writing the first few chapters, but as I did, the story emerged in my head. Not entirely, oh, no, but enough so that I could take the next few steps.

Anyway, so after having written something like this prologue, what I will do for outlining is that I will jot down some key information. It’d be something like this:

Two women in black.

Candies: black, gray, round.

Tray: silver.

That’s it. And then I keep moving on. I might begin by reexamining Chapters 1, 2, and 3. You know, because I have now written the Prologue, and there might be details that I want to add to Chapters 1, 2, and 3. It’s like walking the path I have walked before but now seeing different aspects of the trees and leaves that I’d already seen before.

And, as needed, I repeat the process. My goal isn’t to get to the exit of the forest as quickly as possible. My goal is to take the next step where it makes most sense. To spot the flowers and little scurrying animals. To also make them part of the walk, if I feel so inclined.

And… this method does not take more time than outlining. Not necessarily. And it also does not take more time when you do it the first time. Undoing Cycles was written in three months. Three-ish years later, I have some works in progress that have been in progress for… wow. Months. It is… it is maddening. Walking into the forest without a map is not harder or easier because it’s the first time or the hundredth time, in my opinion. For me it has always depended on the particular forest, a.k.a. story, and more importantly, the state of my mind as the person who takes the walk.

Anyway, despite my huge backlog of works in progress that have been sitting there for months, from past experience, I’m pretty confident that at some point, once I get more used to podcasting and other changes in my life, I will finish my walks in those forests. I mean, before my state of mind began affecting my walks, I have entered forests and then found my way out for about twenty to thirty times now. Some were tiny forests, like microfiction, and others were 150,000-word huge. Either way, I walked into the forest without a map and got out alive with a story.

I wish someone had told me all this before I wrote my first book. But also I think that because I wrote that first book to an outline, and it was such a painful experience, I was able to try what Dean said right away. I had zero revulsion about trying writing into the dark. He sometimes talks about how some of his students deny the possibility of writing without an outline, but I wasn’t one of those students. I immediately believed I would probably enjoy writing into the dark more than writing to an outline.

Because, my goal has never been to write a book. It has always been to write stories. Present tense.

Anyway. I do suggest you try the outline method at least once. Who knows, maybe for you, the outlining method works better. But I suggest that you track the time you spend on outlining, and also monitor how you feel. This includes things like sleep quality, stress level, digestion, if you feel like drinking too much coffee or alcohol, all of that. You as a writer in your totality—how are you affected by outlining or not outlining?

And since this episode is already so… so Ithaka, I’ll talk about talking about the process—this very thing I am doing here right now. This part is the meta part.

I remember Dean saying multiple times on his blogs and in his classes, to never talk about your writing process when you’re a young writer. Young, as in, young in your writer years. He makes great points. I believe his point is that a young writer might waste a great amount of time and mental power in dealing with external elements—such as unnecessary back and forths with… maybe fellow writers, but more likely, just statistically more likely, unnecessary back and forths with people who have never written and probably never will. This is just the statistical reality: that the vast majority of people in this world do not write and never will. So, his logic is, don’t waste resources on interactions like that.

Dean also mentions sometimes how… how readers might be turned off when the writer makes it evident that the writing process is… basically not painful. And, I agree that there are readers like that. There are audiences like that, where… where they think that the pain of the creator results in something better.

But if you’ve heard some of my episodes on Sponge, you know how much I abhor pain. I do not understand where this idea of valuable pain comes from. Can pain lead to valuable gains? Sure. But do valuable gains require pain? No.

And yet, some people use pain as the measuring stick for value. And they think they are able to measure gain, too, but in fact what they’re doing is measuring pain and then from it deducing the gain. It’s fascinating. I think at this point, I truly don’t care to cater to such people, who want to believe that art—in whichever… however they define that word—requires suffering from the artist.

And… as to the idea that “you aren’t the market.” It’s a marketing phrase that is fairly popular, “You aren’t the market.” You—the creator, or business, or whatever entity you consider yourself to be—you aren’t the market, they say. This marketing idea is basically saying not to assume that your likes are the market’s likes; that your dislikes aren’t the market’s dislikes.

And this idea is valid… up to a certain point. It’s especially valid if you’re targeting the mass market. The masses. If you sell plain paper clips, absolutely, do not assume that your likes and dislikes are the market’s likes and dislikes. Bluntly put, nobody cares what the worker at a plain paper clip factory likes or dislikes. Nobody cares what that factory owner likes or dislikes either.

But when you go to the realm of designer paper clips, the story is different. I mean, I don’t know what designer paper clips would entail, and, see, that in and of itself proves that I’m not part of the market for designer paper clips. But, I guess, for someone to call paper clips “designer,” it must have some sort of design in it, and wouldn’t that design be something that the designer likes? And wouldn’t it exclude what said designer dislikes? And therefore, wouldn’t the market, in fact, cannot help but be like the designer in one way or another?

And the market overlaps even more with who you are—you, the designer, creator, inventor, generator of things and ideas— if you go to intangible things, such as, ideas. Everything I create right now is ideas. Books, in tangible forms, are merely idea containers. Even if a book were a collectible, hand-bound with valuable paper and human skills, what would be the most valuable element in that book would be that a human decided to create such a book. The idea of that book came from that human.

And who does that human create for? For himself. Herself. Themselves. And through that selfish act—selfish in that it was for the self—that human creates for other people as well.

If there ever was a time in which the creator was the market, then it is now. I am willing to bet that the reason you are listening to me right now is because something in what I am saying resonates with you. In that way, I am you. You are me. I mean, the word “market” might sound too capitalist, but capitalism or whatnot, I find the idea of a market beautiful. A market needn’t be a capitalist market. A market is simply a place and/or collective of humans who exchange things. Hopefully I am giving something valuable to you, which is why you’re listening to this. And the way humans can provide value is… I mean, it sounds redundant, but it is by giving what the other person wants.

So, really, the more I think about it, I don’t understand how I am not my market. How my market isn’t me.

Sure, there were decades in which factories and schools were focused on mass production. Both goods and humans were produced in massive quantities. Human minds were produced in massive quantities, in identical shapes and forms.

Call me idealistic, but I think that era is soon to be over. You are me. I am you. That is why you’re here.

Just because factories and schools of the recent decades have destroyed the human-to-human meaning of the word “market,” doesn’t mean that the word itself is worthless. In fact, markets at their core of the core are useful, generous, and beautiful.

That is what I mean when I say I am my market, my market is me, you are me, I am you. Of course we have overlapping interests. Otherwise, why would you be here?

I blog, and maybe you’re also a blogger. I read blogs, and you also read blogs. See, I am in someone else’s market too. It’s not just one-directional. The world doesn’t work that way anymore. The world isn’t separated by factory owner versus factory workers anymore, because we’re moving away from mass production—hopefully. I mean, it’s my idealistic theory, but it’s the paradigm through which I see the world.

I think right now we are in a world where most people already understand that they can be both factory owner and worker. Not only that, I think now parts of the world are beginning to understand that in fact, we are neither owner nor worker. I see myself as belonging to this last category. I am neither slave nor master.

Anyway, that’s for another episode.

The point is that we share similarities, and I cannot imagine any of you being people who’re into preserving the secrecy of the muse… or suffering for the sake of art… or in general, glorifying pain and agony and gatekeeping and mass propaganda. Not only that, if such ideas appeal to you, most likely you won’t like my fiction anyway. That’s the thing. What would I gain from attempting to cater to a market that isn’t mine?

I do everything I do with the thought that they are basically the same thing. As in, there is no boundary in my creator mode and consumer mode.

The word “consumer” is another one tainted in recent decades. But there is nothing that must be inherently good or bad in the word “consumer.” And it doesn’t need to be part of any economic or social ideology. The way I use the word “consumer” is in that… I do consume things. This is simply a fact. My consumption is not necessarily in a capitalistic way or socialist way or even communist way. I simply look at the world and I consume things. But because there is a lot of baggage to this word, sometimes I use the word “absorb,” because that sounds… I don’t know, that sounds sort of organic.

At any rate, there is no boundary between how I create and how I consume and/or absorb. Everything I am talking about in this episode, the way I write, the way I walk in the forest, the way I write without a map—this is what I mean. I write like I read. And I read like I write, with the intent to create Sponge episodes. Even if I didn’t have this podcast, I would’ve attempted to digest what I absorbed and put it out in some form or another. It is simply what I do. This isn’t because I am slave or master. This is the way I breathe.

So… if my breathing offends someone, clearly they’re not my market. And so why exactly do I need to care what they think about me or my work?

And at this point, I think it is futile for me to expect that people won’t sense who I am simply because I don’t talk about my creation process explicitly. It’s too obvious. I think most consumers of the year 2023 are so used to creators of every kind that it is very very difficult to fool people. Even disappearing behind a work of fiction is becoming more and more difficult, in my opinion. People don’t need to be told in explicit words what a creator is about. All I’m making clear in this episode is… I’m verifying what you might have already been thinking about how I function.

The other day, I watched a documentary called “Tim’s Vermeer.” In it, inventor Tim Jenison tests his theory about how Johannes Vermeer might have painted his art. And, well, the conclusion is that Mr. Jenison is able to produce a painting that is remarkably identical to an authentic Vermeer, using the technology that he thought Vermeer used.

But that wasn’t the most interesting part for me. What was interesting for me was something that Tim Jenison said. I don’t remember the exact line. The movie is from the year 2013, so, from ten years ago. And he says something like, These days, people must choose if they want to go to engineering school or art school. But in the Golden Age, there was no such distinction.

As in, he meant that Vermeer was an artist and an engineer. A scientist. An inventor. He was all of the above.

The whole documentary revolves around this idea that there is no actual distinction. He’s saying that, if it looks like there is a distinction between artist and inventor, it’s a temporary distinction that merely happens to be fashionable right now, and that distinction is a human-made one.

And what I am saying in this episode is the same. There is no actual distinction between the creator and the consumer. So long as you have access to the internet, you are likely already creating, whether you try to or not.

And every time people worry about “Oh, there is so much crap out there because anybody can create whatever they want,” I’m like “So you actually think that the gatekeepers have good taste? Really? Really?

If you are a person with a creative mind, meaning, anybody who creates anything, you know that’s bullshit. I think only people who have never felt the desire to create could possibly believe that gatekeepers can actually keep the gates effectively. I would much rather talk to the people who boldly go and create whatever the fuck they feel like creating.

If there ever was a time when the market was me and I was the market, then it is now. It is now possible for this to work. It wasn’t possible before the internet. When there was only broadcast television, the technology simply wasn’t there. But now? Now you and your wonderful weirdo friends can like what you like and you can actually find a fellow weirdo like me. How great is that?

So. Wow. This was a long long side road I took, just now. Basically, what I am saying is that… Yeah, it took me several years to decide to talk about my process. And I do think that if I had started talking about my process sooner, it might have been detrimental. But now… my process has grown from a baby to a young child. You know, it’s like how humans, when they are about three to four years old, can walk, eat on their own, dress on their own, and wash themselves, and so on and so forth. Obviously, a human child who is only three or four years old cannot survive in the modern world, because it cannot get a job and cannot pay taxes and cannot drive and all that. However, they could survive at the most fundamental level. Before three or four, it’s entirely not possible. But after three or four? In the olden times before the very concept of children’s rights? Yeah.

And April 4th 2023 will be my four-year publishing anniversary. I published my first book—the one that died—on 2019 April 4th. But also I started writing on 2012 April 4th. So… You could say I am about three to four years old now, but also you could say I am about ten to eleven years old now.

As in, I am still a very young writer, but also… I’m not a baby anymore. I am enough of a not-baby in that I know what might change in the future and what will remain until the day I die.

Not everything about a person can change. It’s the core. The core cannot change. If the core changes, you disintegrate as a person. There are things deep inside us that simply cannot change. And after three or four years, slash ten or eleven years, I now have a rudimentary idea of what my writing core is. I might change genres, I might change my writing gear, I might even change my pen name, who knows. But the core isn’t about those things. The core is about why I write, why I record this, why I do anything that I do—it’s about why I breathe.

And so, long story short, I do not do anything for mass-produced minds anyway, so I think you folks who suggested that I talk about my own process were right.

The forest that is writing is deep. It never ends. In it, there are smaller sections of tiny forests, which are the individual stories, but the big forest, the one and all-encompassing forest of storytelling, I will never leave. I don’t want to leave. I want to get lost here and find new mini-forests forever.

Writing is eternal. I do not need a map. I do not want a map. And maybe you are such a person too.

Several months ago, when I started this podcast, I told you about the meaning of my pen name, Ithaka. It’s from a poem. It sounds like Ithaka is the goal, in the poem, but is it really the goal? I don’t think so. I think it is the end, but not the goal. And everyone who has ever read a fiction story knows that the ending is not the goal. The true purpose is to simply take the walk. The point isn’t to get to the end. In life and in story, the point isn’t that. To live life or write stories as if getting to the end were the point would be like to dance in a straight line.

You know, dancing is a series of movements that do not make sense? It isn’t about sense. It’s not about efficiency. It’s not about knowing what’s going to happen next.

We dance because we are compelled to do so. And we watch dancing because we as humans enjoy the beauty of other humans being compelled to do things for no logical reason whatsoever.

So it is with taking walks in unknown forests. So it is with writing into the dark.

Ithaka, the poem, says this: “Arriving there is what you’re destined for.” But that isn’t the point.

God, I love this poem so much.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.”

from “Ithaka” by C.P. Cavafy

What a beautiful poem. This is why my pen name is Ithaka. And if you agree with any part of what I’ve said in this, goodness, long, so long episode, then methinks you might like some of my fiction. You might like my blog. You might even like me.

Not only that, maybe you know other humans like you. So.

If you liked this episode of Sponge, please share it with a human—online or offline, it does not matter. Technology is a great tool, but I think if we can do things with and for other humans made of flesh, blood, and bones, the world will be a better place.

If you would like to find out more about everything else I do besides Sponge, visit ithakaonmymind.com.

Stay true, everybody.

All links


  • Roie Shpigler – The House with the Purple Windows
  • Crosstown Traffic – Each and Every Day – Instrumental Version
  • idokay – Through the Yellow Blue Fields
  • Nick Poss – Dust Devil
  • Roland Bingaman – The Eye of the Devil
  • Jamie Rutherford – Mabel’s Waltz
  • Sid Acharya – An Ocean of Stars

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About me

🌊 Call me Ithaka. Everything I do is organized here.