I’ve been thinking about pain lately.

I know that might sound terribly grim and negative, but I can’t help it. I have this toothache, see, and it’s difficult to think about anything else.

When I wake up in the morning it’s kind of a dull throbbing—more pressure than pain. Then I have breakfast, trying my best to chew on the other side but still it starts to hurt more. Then it just starts to hurt for no apparent reason. Then, lunch, and I bite down and what feels like a point that’s suddenly appeared on my bottom left wisdom tooth hits the top wisdom tooth—just a tap—and that produces a blinding jolt of agonizing pain so intense it could only have been conjured by Satan himself in the deepest, boiling hubs of Hell then sent up through the Earth’s crust and into my gums and jaw with the force of a thousand exploding suns.

And that’s pretty much it for me for the rest of the day.

Deadline? Ha!

Household chores? Forget it!

Anything but sitting on the couch with my hand on my cheek? I wish!

Okay, but in all honesty I have actually managed to get some work done. Finished that secret project book I’ve taken way too long to finish. Wrote that outline for the next secret project book. Started on an article assignment.

But still, I’ve been on slow speed for the past week or so, hitting the most pressing deadlines then letting some other stuff slip. Yesterday I finally admitted defeat and went to the dentist. Surprise: Infected wisdom tooth. Must come out. This afternoon I get to make a long drive up to Everett for a visit with the oral surgeon the have at least another week’s agonizing pain to look forward to. But I still have deadlines . . .

And here’s the good news:

My job requires no heavy lifting. If I move to “the downtown office,” which is where I’m working from right now, my job—physically speaking, at least—requires sitting on the living room couch in my sweatpants working on a laptop while also working my way through the entire run of Star Trek: Enterprise on Netflix.

And then there’s this to consider: It’s just a toothache. It will be solved with a couple trips to the dentist, and thanks to my wife’s full time teaching job most of the cost will be covered by insurance. The infection’s not that bad. I’m not a total wuss so will do it without being put to sleep, so the danger involved in the procedure is close to nil—I’m more likely to die in a car accident on my way to and from the appointment. I will live, and live just fine without my last two wisdom teeth, just as I’ve lived just fine for twenty-five years without the two on the right side, which were pulled after a similar incident in 1987.

I know people who are facing greater pain (difficult as that is for me to imagine right now) and with a rather longer and less certain treatment road ahead of them. So I need to quit whining, get my teeth pulled, and get back to work.

I expected this image to reveal a tiny demon in there somnewhere.

I expected this image to reveal a tiny demon in there somnewhere.


But let’s face it, the worst pain is the pain you’re having right now. I can’t feel anyone else’s pain, just mine. And dentists are scary, and I know it’s going to start hurting worse before it starts to hurt less . . .

Okay, now I’m whining.

What does all this have to do with writing fantasy and science fiction?

Nothing and everything.

This post is more my excuse for slowing down my workload this week (again) than it is practical advice for authors, but let’s see if we can find something of value in my suffering.

One: Remember I said that my job doesn’t require heavy lifting, or, for that matter, teeth? Well, that’s true. So I do expect that I will finish this article on time, get back to that edit that’s way late already, move on to other way-late edit, and get the first Traveller novel done and up for sale (got the cover in yesterday), and I’ll be writing, too. Go me.

If the Vicodin adds a layer of surrealism to the proceedings, well, hell, Cocteau wrote his best stuff on heroine, as did William S. Burroughs, so who knows?

Two: My job does not require me to leave the house. Writing and editing may be the two best jobs in the world for convalescence. If I took a “sick day” I’d probably end up writing anyway, or goofing around on Facebook or playing video games—all that requires pretty much the same degree of physical activity, and many of the same mental processes, so if I can play Civilization, I can copy edit.

Three: I now know what it feels like to experience horrible, agonizing pain. That comes in handy when you’re writing space opera and sword and sorcery, which often feature bloody combat, attacks by monsters, and other painful things. I bet that when someone chops you with a battle-axe it hurts—maybe almost as much as my tooth hurts right now. I will capture this feeling, catalog it, and dredge it back out in fiction to set my characters writhing in agony.

And for many of them, there will be no Novocain, no Vicodin, no Star Trek: Enterprise.

Enough of my whinin’!


—Philip Athans





About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Arron of the Black Forest, Books, comic books, creative team, Dungeons & Dragons, horror movies, horror novels, Publishing Business, RPG, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, SF and Fantasy Authors, transmedia, Traveller, Video Games, Writing, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s