I haven’t had a week like this one in quite a long time.
I mean that in both good terms and in bad ones. Over the last few weeks, my life has been in a state of relative upheaval. I’ve had a lot of struggles, mostly internal ones, and I’ve pulled back from the things and people I love to get things sorted out. I’m coming out of the tunnel, now, and I’m very relieved to see that the light I was struggling towards isn’t an oncoming semi.
So what’s been sorted? And what’s next?
My work and living situations have been in flux, but have taken on more stability, especially in the past week. True, it’s not in the form of a solid, routine, commuting, 9-to-5 sort of stability at the moment, but honestly, with the way my living situation has changed, that might be for the best. Redoubling my efforts to do more remote freelancing to support my writing feels more true to my nature than hunting down the elusive corporate gig that really plays to my strengths and lets me feel like more than a cog in a capitalist machine.
This all boils down to the internal struggles I’ve been having on a personal level. As much as I would like to think that I am an intelligent primate with a well-ordered and focused mind, the truth is that things can and often are a lot more chaotic than I’d like to admit. Especially when my mood swings in ways that are barely under my control, if at all, or my subconscious mind latches onto an emotion or concept that runs counter to what I consciously know is counter-productive, my mental landscape goes through changes in weather rather than remaining calm and placid. Hell, there have been earthquakes in there lately.
Recovering from rough periods like this one is never easy. I’ve taken some time in relative isolation to get things under control before they became even more problematic for everyone involved. And I need to make this clear: nobody outside of my own head has done anything objectively wrong. I’m very thankful for everyone who’s chosen to stay in my life, even if communication has been disrupted. Those disruptions don’t last forever, though.
Sometimes, all you can do is fight for your own mind as hard as you can, and pray that those who’ve stood with you are still standing when the smoke clears.
I trust my friends, my closest ones, more than I do my own brain sometimes. They wouldn’t be so willing to work with me, even in waiting, if they did not feel I was trustworthy in return. Now more than ever, I’ll do my utmost to vindicate that trust. I’ll take the time necessary to do right by the people I care about, and who care about me. I will do the things that make me come alive.
I have a responsibility to the people I love. I won’t ever forget that.
Reality’s a stone-cold bitch. That’s why I mostly write fiction.
I identify first and foremost as a writer, not necessarily a programmer or a social media guru or mediocre gamer. As such I’ve come to accept several truths about myself.
Any emotional problems from which I actually suffer will be exacerbated by the short-sighted stubborn sociopathy inherent of being a writer.
If I take up writing as a full-time profession I am going to dodge debt collectors and utility bills even more than I do now. (Don’t panic, family members, my knees are unbroken and will remain so. I’m just not dining on steak and drinking cognac. More like dining on pasta and drinking cheap pop.)
The longer I do not write full time and cram writing in whenever I can into the nooks and crannies of a packed schedule, fueled by whatever energy I can spare, the more my writing is going to suffer for it and the less likely I am to get published before I’m facing off against Gandalf and Dumbledore in a long white beard growing competition. Which I’ll win because they’re fictional.
While writing is an evolutionary process that requires several drafts, torrents of trial and error, and accepting that one’s final effort might still be a flaming pile of poo, processes in the professional world are very different, and being writerly will rarely be tolerated long in the face of clients who want what they want yesterday for less than they want to pay. If you don’t get something right the first time, there’s the door, don’t let it hit you on those fancy pants you thought you were wearing.
I am never, ever, for as long as I keep breathing, going to give up writing.
Sure, I’ll be miserable more often than not. Who isn’t? I’ve learned to seize and capitalize on my joy when I find it. My wife’s smile. Pulling off a win in StarCraft. Meeting fellow geeks in person instead of just over the Tweetsphere. The open road on a sunny day. Poutine. The Union scoring a goal. A decent movie or video game with a coherent story and three-dimensional characters. My mom’s cooking and my dad’s laughter.
And finishing a story.
That’s the hidden beauty of writing. If you do it right, you get to finish it multiple times. After your first draft, you go back and edit it. And when you get through the edit? Guess what, you finished it. Awesome!
In my experience it’s not a case of diminishing returns. The next round of edits might not be as heady in its completion as the last, but it’ll be different and it’ll still be good. And let me tell you, it’s a long hard road to get there.
Even if you do write for a living, you still have to produce. Instead of the aforementioned clients you have looming deadlines, a constant and gnawing doubt that your writing just won’t be good enough and the cold knowledge that at least a dozen younger, hungrier and more talented penjockeys are just waiting for you to fuck up so they can take your place, and your paycheck. Pressure from clients or deadlines or those lean and hungry wolves becomes pressure on you, pound after pound after pound of it, and when you go home at night with even more words unwritten, you’re going to feel every ounce of that pressure on your foolish head, and every word you haven’t written will pile on top, each one an additional gram of concentrated dark-matter suck.
It’s a love affair with someone who never returns you calls when you need them but always calls just when you think you can’t take another day of this tedious, soul-eroding bullshit.
I said earlier I mostly write fiction. This, for example, isn’t ficton. I wouldn’t mind writing more recollections like this, but guess what, I’m not getting paid for it (I could be if somehting hadn’t gone wrong with my ad block, thank you SO much for that, Google Ads). My movie & game reviews, short stories, commentary on geek minutae, Art of Thor series, IT CAME FROM NETFLIX!, the Beginner’s Guide to Westeros? Not a dime. I don’t write any of that because I get paid for it. I do it to entertain those couple dozen of you who cruise by here every day. I do it because I feel I’ve got something to say that hasn’t quite been said this way before.
And yes, I do it because I love it.
It’s in my blood and my bones. It keeps me awake at night more than bills or code or politics or Protoss cheese or ruminations on the Holy Ghost. And since I doubt I’m going to be getting rid of it at this point in my life, I might as well embrace it and make the most of it.
I’m going to suffer more hardship. I might have to move, or change jobs again, or go through some embarassing procedure because I tried to hock my words at passers-by on the train and had made one of the first drafts of my manuscript into what I felt was a fetching kilt (nae trews Jimmy) and a matching hat that may or may not have been styled after those conical straw numbers you see atop badass samurai in Kurosawa movies.
So be it.
Say it with me, writers.
I will not whine.
I will not blubber.
I will not make mewling whimpering cryface pissypants boo-hoo noises.
I will not sing lamentations to my weakness.
I am the Commander of these words.
I am the King of this story.
I am the God of this place.
I am a writer, and I will finish the shit that I started.
Chances are good that, if you’re reading this, you’re a human being. I mean, you could be an automated online process looking for SEO terminology, but if that’s the case you won’t get much out of this post. I tend to write more in coherent thoughts than barely-connected keywords. Anyway, the majority of my audience are human beings, and if there’s one thing all human beings do, it’s make mistakes.
Okay, all human beings do a lot of other things too, but I don’t have much of a knack for poop humor.
When mistakes happen, as they inevitably do, a lot of energy is generated. Disappointment, rage, confusion, dread; all of these emotions tend to fall towards the negative end of the spectrum. But like any energy source, it can be redirected. But how, and to where?
When you fail, there are two questions that need to be answered. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is “Why?” Provided that your failure isn’t due to some sort of natural disaster, there’s a human being that can be referenced as the cause for the failure, be it yourself or someone else. Note that this is not about assigning blame, it’s about understanding the cause that lead to the effect of you feeling at least somewhat drained and broken.
Examine the circumstances. Was it something you said or did? Does the product you’re offering require more polish? Did you miss an essential bit of data in the process of assembling your solution? Did you approach the wrong audience? Was your timing off? Did you forget anything?
Quite a few of these questions, all expansions upon “Why?” are largely personal. There may be some navel-gazing involved. However you appoaching answering this first overarching question, as you hunt down the causes you will collect data. Your failure may be time-sensitive and require a rapid response, so you might not have too much time to gather all the facts. Still, the more data you can reasonably collect, the better you can answer the second question.
That question is: “What now?”
The impulse in light of failure, especially repeated failure, may be to quit. Why band your head against the wall repeatedly? You won’t get anywhere, it tends to start hurting and someone else might own the wall and sue you for damages while you nurse that concussion. Better to quit and do something less frustrating with our time, right?
Quitting is the only true failure. It’s surrendering, admitting defeat. It’s saying that whatever it was you were trying to do, that you had devoted time, energy and talent to doing, simply isn’t worth that expenditure, and you were wasting it before you decided to run up the white flag.
Now, not everything we do is going to have a profound impact if we keep at it. The world isn’t going to end if you decide a puzzle has stumped you or a game is too difficult to overcome even on the easiest settings. However, creative endeavors and the potential fruits of labor at the workplace tend to have deeper meanings, even if it’s just how we’ll be seen by those who write our paychecks.
So more often than not, I would encourage you not to quit. Tenacity is a virtue that can be hard to find in an age where more creature comforts, distractions and products focused on ease of use help people become lazier. There are those who simply don’t see the point of doing something they can’t excel at or aren’t the least bit passionate about, and quit before they’ve even begun.
In other words, they’ve failed without even giving themselves a chance to try.
This isn’t to say that everybody shoud do everything they can or have the inclination to try. There just isn’t time. But people who develop ideas for a narrative, or a career, or a new artistic endeavor, or a unique community initiative, or an unexplored workplace solution and do nothing with it after it’s emerged from their imaginative centers tend to baffle me. Why don’t they do something with their ideas? What’s stopping them from seeking further inspiration, time to develop those products or at least finding a partner with whom to collaborate?
If they’re anything like me, they’re probably reminded themselves that they suck one too many times.
It’s imporant to be humble, there’s no doubt about that. Having the attidue of “I don’t know everything but I want to know more” when it comes to creating something or playing a game or being a better driver or just about anything is a much healthier one than “I know everything and am always right.” But the exact opposite of that unfavorable mentality is “I don’t know enough and never will so I’m just going to give up.”
I mentioned in yesterday’s post how demoralizing the realization of just how much you suck can be. You get schooled in a game. Your art or writing doesn’t turn out how you thought it would. You get nowhere in a project at work, and the deadline is breathing down your neck. Encountering resistance is going to happen, and when it does many people (myself included) feel the impulse to just give up.
But I’ve learned to do something else with that impulse. Other than kicking it square in the teeth.
The Internet Is For More Than Just Porn
We are more connected to one another than we have ever been. While the world is running out of space and resources for the human race, it’s also shrinking in terms of distance between people in terms of communication. People who might never have met just ten years ago can now trade information, pleasantries or insults instantaneously.
It’s one of the best tools you can use for turning your failures into fuel.
Chances are there’s a community based around your area of enthusiasm. Find one and start asking members for help and opinions. Since the community is full of other enthusiasts, chances are at least a couple will share your passion, understand your struggle and have advice to give. There’s all sorts of help and encouragement available to you, you just have to hunt it down and ask for it.
The Path Ahead
Again, I want to stress that you should not feel obligated to treat every single one of your failures like this. Time is a limited resource and we each only have so much in our lives. Choose what truly interests you, what makes you come alive, and leverage that into a hobby or even a career. And when you fail along the path to achieving your goals related to this empassioning interest, that’s when you should ask yourself why, figure out what’s next and seek help and encouragement. To me, that’s how you succeed at failure.
If you have any other thoughts or suggestions, I’d love to hear them.
I’m trying out HootSuite. These owls look like social creatures.
I’ve always been more comfortable with on-line conversations than real ones.
it might be because, for most online conversations one-on-one with people, I’m a known quantity. People know what to expect with me, and for the most part they like what they expect. There’s a reduced amount of anxiety involved. I’m less concerned about embarassing myself with somebody I know than with a stranger, especiall a stranger I’d like to impress for one reason or another. I guess we can chalk that up under the heading “massive nerd” in my personality dossier.
The meteoric rise of social media in all its myriad and ever-evolving forms has been a bit of a boon for people like me. It is easier than ever to put yourself and what you do out in front of an objective and potentially interested audience, where the true tests of your work’s quality lie. For writers, the process of rejection and resubmission was the only real way to test their work for a very long time. It’s still viable and I’m not going to discount how important it is to pitch as often as possible, but at the same time, you can start a blog, tweet your posts and get feedback for no investment other than time. And if your writing improves, it’s time well spent.
So it is with other creative professions, especially if they have anything to do with the Internet. Online designers and interactive developers need to discover and leverage the power of social media, if they haven’t already. Freelancers can drum up work and established employees can cultivate business contacts and fellow online pioneers with the power of these tools. You might be surprised, but the feeds and tweets from those who might seem to be impersonal or even automated can lead to new, exciting places if you pay close attention to what’s being said in which directions.
Don’t misunderstand, spam on Twitter or any other social media feed can be just as irritating as it is in your inbox. However, a Twitter bot or news feed from a company can be just as promising as a lead from a friend. Be it from a living, breathing person or a generated bit of data, turning an interesting bit of data into the next big thing takes the right timing, the right skill set, the right environment and the right need. Most of all, though, it takes you being there to take advantage of it.
So it is with the real world. You never know when the next big thing is waiting for you in your immediate future unless you put yourself out there with an open mind to process what your eyes are seeing and your ears are seeing. I would not have a manuscript under review by two fantastic ladies in the publishing industry if I hadn’t put myself out there. Getting that great job means showing up in person – not just for the interview but every day after. Don’t just heat up the seat your in, heat up the whole environment. That’s when you make your mark. That’s when you become invaluable, and invaluable is what you want to be if you want more than just a job to fill the hours and occasionally pay you some money.
It plays back into itself, as well. When you begin to inhabit a position, it pays to branch out from there. Both in social media and in person, if you know it or not, you’re putting a face on the people for whom you work. In some circumstances, you might be working for yourself, which is cool. People like to know who’s sending them hot new items in person instead of just reading text off of a screen. And if you’re employed by another, your personality, geniality and willingness to step out and be seen & heard speaks to the trust, passion and drive of the people behind you. This isn’t to say that every interaction with someone else in the industry you work in will reflect one way or another on your employers, but it is something to keep in mind when you approach the reception table, pin a name tag to your shirt and start shaking hands. Those people you exchange pleasantries with tonight may be people you tweet with in the days and weeks to come. And from those interactions, you may yeild more business. Conversion is conversion, no matter how it happens.
Creative folks sometimes fancy themselves mavericks, loners, those wild people on the fringes of society with a glimmer in their eye and gin on their breath. But when you get right down to it, if you want to make a living doing what you love you have to take what you love to the people who’ll love it and pay you to make more. That means bathing, brushing your teeth, shaking hands and becoming engaged in social activity. Social media has made it easier to do this, and expanded the possibilities far beyond what could have been considered just a few years ago. But it’s still essential for there to be a person behind the feeds. When one of them grows from a simple tweet or comment to the next step on the road between where you are and where you want to be, it’s going to require facetime. As much as social media has given us so many more ways to get to that next step, it’s not enough to just be social. You need to be social and be real.
It’s been been over a year since I discussed The Fine Art of Selling Yourself. Other than being almost done with a novel that, while imperfect, might actually have a shot of getting some ink, very little has changed for me. I still think pitches should be simple, agents should be approached with confidence and that no amount of rejection should stop you (or me) from trying to hook one.
But there’s something else. Something I nearly forgot in the rush to finish the aforementioned manuscript.
Have something solid.
It’s very, very rare for a project in any sort of media to get picked up on pitch alone. Unless you know someone in the business, have perfect timing, and possess a supernatural awareness of what’s going to sell to a lucrative demographic, you might as well be throwing darts at a dart board. But a solid work? Something that’s been revised, edited and polished? That’s like approaching the same dart board with a shotgun.
That’s why I took the pressure of off myself to finish before the weekend. I might finish at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference, in addition to attending workshops and Tweeting to make sure all of my literary friends know what the place has to offer, but I realize just how bad of a first impression it’d be for me to run into a face-to-face with an agent, out of breath but happy to have a finished work to pitch. The last thing you want from someone you might be working with is to meet them when they sweat all over your shirt.
So I’m not going to embarrass myself – any more than I do normally, shut up. Clean clothes, nice hat, fresh battery in the pocket watch, business cards. I’ll meet people, network, get people interested. If I do approach an agent, it’d be to pick their brain, see how my genre is doing and what the demand is. Maybe a quick ‘elevator’ pitch as to what Citizen in the Wilds is all about, why it might sell and to whom it’d appeal. Maybe.
But I won’t be looking for an agent in earnest until Citizen is trimmed and pruned, which might be a while.
Speaking of, however, if anybody here has been using Google Wave for their project in terms of getting collaborative feedback, can you give me any tips on how to get started? I’m thinking once I get people on board, it’ll be best to release one chapter at a time, get it fixed up, and then move on.
Finally, if I do go that route, would anybody like to help tear my writing a structurally superfluous new behind? I’ll start a list. Then when the last word’s been banged out, I’ll start dangling nice meaty chops of potential fantasy-flavored fail for your minds to nom on.