Dear writers, why do we write? – My reason

This question came at me out of the blue this evening after a particularly long day that started with a 2 1/2 hour commute to the body shop and rental car agency before work (almost triple the usual with an odd detour). The off the cuff response to ‘WHY?!’ is: because maybe writing is a sort of really cheap drug that doesn’t actually get you high. I mean, I could quit if I wanted to, right?

Probably not – and that’s the crux of dependency, isn’t it?

Everyone who knows me, knows that I started programming back in high school and went to college for the same. What fewer folk know is that I started out with little games and I wanted to turn that into programming games for a living. It turns out, I’m not really smart enough for that sort of thing and don’t have the temperament to live in the sort of city where that’s a possible job option and I certainly haven’t got the steady hand nor sharp eye you have with most artists. My creative world lives in making things where I can measure twice and cut once. it’s one of the reasons I like wood-working. There’s a precision your tools give you that a paint-brush, for example, won’t. In any case, my education and various career options led me to where I am today. Not game programming.

I don’t want to sound as though I don’t enjoy my job. In fact, I think that after having left a year and returned, I feel much more fortunate and committed than ever before. You sometimes get lucky and it’s not always obvious when you do.

So, here I am today, a writer who’s chief success is publication in a small-town newspaper as the author of a sometimes entertaining recipe box. My lesser known successes are more of the personal variety and simply involve having actually drafted more than one novel (I’m up to 3 and have two more well on their way to full draft status). On more than one occasion, I’ve attempted to just give it up completely and walk away, because well crap, I’m not very good at this and in spite of tremendous support and help from the writing community haven’t managed to achieve the fundamental author task of just getting something published.

Repeated failure is demoralizing, and incredibly painful to the ego yet, I keep doing it, and I’m not alone. So many of us are in the same boat, constantly chipping away at a story that we desperately want to share and not quite getting there. Or better, finding that one lucky break that puts us in the enviable position of getting to write for a living! Oh my. Wouldn’t that be something.

To circle back around the the metaphor with the drug & dependency. I can’t speak for my colleagues out there, but for me, I cling to the tangible creative outlet that writing provides. It’s a way to express myself and create things that didn’t exist before. When I was a kid, I was absolutely intoxicated by the writings of those who created new worlds for me to explore and be a part of, and ever since, I’ve remained drunk on the idea and am continually looking for a bigger fix, and in comes writing, the only drug that might get me that next big high with the occasional collapsed ego hang-over.

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Can a brick wall kill an author?

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This week I hit a brick wall. I’m not going to call it writer’s block. I suppose that label is just fine, but I hate it because it suggests a block in creativity. That’s not what I’m experiencing, exactly. I wrote and re-wrote a particular section of my WIP about six times this week and got no closer to improving it. On the contrary, I found that the work was actually getting WORSE! The characters started to lose their voice, the plot increasingly twisted toward a series of wrong turns in a forest. The result is a book hard in the ditch (if you happen to be reading this and don’t live in a place that can get 36″ of snow, I’m basically thinking of a car up to it’s windows in snow on the side of the highway). I sat back and evaluated the plot plan and came to the conclusion that while I have a few fun scenes and a few silly characters and even a few very undeveloped themes orbiting around a notion that, in theory, could be whipped into a book. Upon careful examination, I’m not at all convinced my original plan, or even any adjustment of it, is actually going to work.

This wouldn’t be nearly so bad, except that this is my THIRD manuscript for the year, which sounds fairly manic, but it’s 30K, 65K, and 45K each before stopping to assess. The first was ditched because it was a floundering sequel to a book that failed to launch, the second started strong and went side-ways for exactly the same problems I had to kill the Dark Queen. I thought, tonight, before sitting down to write this, that perhaps I’d go one more time through Wine Bottles and Broomsticks and see about shopping it around to a few more folks who might be interested in taking the project on. I started with the main character. He’s not as strong as Betas would like him to be and so I though that’d be a great place to start. Well, I stared at a blank screen for fifteen minutes before realizing that repair just isn’t going to happen. Rick’s a loser, and it’s beyond my skill to fix him. He needs to have a purpose, which he doesn’t. That was the plan originally, but it makes for a story nobody really wants (keep in mind here that I have had a tremendous cheering section and I think about that EVERY DAY). Needless to say, giving him a purpose and re-writing the book around it would not only be a tremendous amount of work, I’m not sure I’m able to pull it off.

So why is this a brick wall? It’s a brick wall because I’ve got half a dozen projects in the air and don’t posses the skills necessary to take these manuscripts apart and put them back together again in the form of a coherent, compelling, and (most importantly) professional work. Anyhow, the whole thing has absolutely killed my confidence and my creativity. I can’t see myself writing out of this hole and every time I look at another book, I feel that I could totally do that, but the reality is I can’t. It’s sort of like being the guy watching some sports thingy on TV and knowing I could do it better, but also knowing full well that the minute I hit the field, I’d die.

Really, this blow to the old ego is hard enough that I very nearly deleted everything I have and deleted almost all of my author platform to walk away clean. I haven’t done that yet, but I’m on the very edge of doing just that. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on all of it and see myself simply failing. It’s not a good feeling, but that’s where I am. In any case, it may be that I won’t post for quite some time. However, I will still be active on my other blog (bakedgoodsandbourbon.com), because I still cook and even if my family hates me for it, the mostly eat it.


 

Photo credit: Curtis Gregory Perry Brick Wall via photopin (license)

Can’t I just disappear for a while?

This morning I got up, dragged my sorry rump off to work, got stuck in traffic and rolled into work late. Not awesome. I was able to stay late to make it up, no problem. The bigger problem was that when I hit the parking lot and climbed out. My first thought was “I am so done, so done.” To be clear, I don’t hate my job, but I’m so so busy, so incredibly busy. I know I claim to be a writer and should easily be able to describe how many flavors of busy I am and how it feels to work in an environment so saturated with crises that everyone seems to think adding unnecessary crises is a pretty good idea  – you know to really show how busy we are, but the best I can come up with is that I can’t finish a current task without having two more added to the list. My colleague and I have written about 120 reports in the past five months. To add some context to that, this is roughly the annual throughput of the entire team prior to our arrival. As this is my job and I’m well compensated for it, it should be YAY us, we’re freaking awesome. Nope. Not feeling it -I’m tired.

Last weekend, the wife and I went to Seattle, sans children, to have a romantic stress-free weekend. This was fully achieved, it was great. I don’t care how many homeless people I didn’t see or how much I didn’t have my car broken into or any of those things that happen in big cities. I frikkin’ loved Seattle. LOVED. I figured the trip would really recharge my batteries. It did for about a day. Then, I came back and reality hit again.

I have made myself so busy, I now feel guilty about the 1 hour a week I’m devoting to watching Westworld. I’ve got a demanding job, for which I’ve recently had a title change that I can’t tell anybody about that because apparently something got screwed up, I don’t know what got screwed up, just that I have a shiny new meaningless title and I’m also pretty sure everyone thinks I’m slacking. On top of that, I’m trying to start another company for another company, which is NOT going as hoped. I’m also trying to write 2 (no, actually 4, but only two actively) books AND I’m trying to get a book published on inkshares – that’s not going great, but I’m doing the best I can to promote without being absolutely insufferable. To continue to add to the list, I’m writing a recipe article for my wife’s dad’s newspaper (any suggestions? – due tomorrow, looks like). Then, last but not least, I’m trying to keep up on my blog, which (obviously) is not going well. I’m so damn over-taxed that I’ve tried about half a dozen posts in the last week or two and have gotten just past the “hey, I had this great thought I wanted to share” point and realized I didn’t have the mental energy to get to the point and wrap it.

Yesterday, I started the audiobook for Felicia Day’s autobiography – it’s called something about being weird on the internet, don’t ask me the title, I’m too lazy to pick up my iPod or open another tab to Google it and get it right. This audio book is good, I mean I love her work, and think she’s a spectacular writer. I’m pretty sure the book is meant to be a ‘rah-rah, love yourself and follow your dreams’ sort of story. Well, it didn’t work for me. I pretty much finished it and have more or less come a way thinking that this woman is brilliant and talented, and I am not, and no amount of hard work I put into anything is going to amount to anything one tenth so brilliant.

Part of the reason I’m so busy at work is that I’ve built a system that lends itself to extremely rapid adhoc report development. Someone can ask me the question: How many CCU visits resulted in this particular diagnosis in August & September 2016 and the same for 2015. I can spin that around in like 20 minutes. The usual timeline for an adhoc like that is like six months – largely because it would take 3-6 hours, maybe more, and it doesn’t count as a big important thing, so it gets dropped to the bottom of the list. In any case, having built this system up, I am becoming ‘the guy’. I’m not the only ‘the guy’, but I am one, and so I’m in demand. On one hand, you could call this a win and say it’s brilliant within my work context, but I don’t see it that way. I still have 50 unresolved tickets and have a mountain of documentation and training materials, plus hours of meetings and requirements gathering for more reports, I don’t have much of a handle on planning or even progress, my whole project management game is shit, really. Basically, I have worked my ass off and am further behind than when I started. This is not a win, nor is is anything like brilliant.

I wrote a book I love and characters I think are awesome. That book received 0 response from more than 40 agents and has not gained any sort of momentum on inkshares. I have had TREMENDOUS support from so many people, who are endlessly sharing and tweeting and pre-ordering, but with less than a month and more than 200 copies to go. The win is looking beyond remote. That book is very unlikely to see the light of day. I can’t tell you how much THAT makes me feel like I’m letting folks down. So much support, and I’m unable to make the win. When you crowd-fund like that, the project becomes the project of everyone who supported, and for me to not hit the magic number is an ENORMOUS failure to deliver for EVERY SINGLE PERSON who has helped and been generous and supportive.

I’m not stuck on my other works as much as I simply haven’t got the time to work on them as much as is necessary to finish any one of them. I mean, I do write -every day. Sometimes, I get super productive and knock out 2K in a single night, but those nights are rare and with so little energy to spare, the best I can do is read through what I wrote on one of those WIPs and think about how much work remains.

So.

Here I am.

I don’t have the bandwidth. I just want to walk away from all of it. I’m tired and my motivation for doing more than coming home, having a beer and falling asleep on the couch is basically non-existent. I clearly haven’t got the drive or talent of a person capable of pulling off any of what I’ve set out out to do. The hard part is that I can’t help but try. I suppose that for every ‘I worked my ass off to get here’ story you get, you get as many ‘I worked my ass off and I’m no further down the road than I was ten years ago’ stories. Anyhow, now I’m off to work on something that requires my attention.

Maybe stupidity and unrelenting stubbornness will pay off at some point?