[If you're just here for the folksy writerly wisdom served up in a clumsy South Parkian "I've learned something today" way, it's down at the bottom.]
Sometimes you dribble into a new chapter of your life, not really even knowing until later that's what was happening, but other times you feel the page turn with a sort of inescapable gravitas. The sky seems different. The old world falls away.
The earth shifts.
Though artists may have a peculiar ability to transmute emotions into creativity, into productivity, and––when we're working well––into art itself, we are also human; our art is WORK so it suffers from the same fragility as any other job's output might during high stress times. Like many, I've been stressed out for years about the political landscape, and for four years, work has been a bit thinner than I'd like it. As the pandemic compounded the issue and took away a number of coping mechanisms, I found my writing attention fractured, good focus hard to find, and no end of trouble coming up even with just a blog post a day, not to mention all the extra irons I have in the fire.
But I did promise you an earth shift.
As hard as certain people are trying to contest our election results, they've got (at best) complaints about a couple of hundred ballots out of victory margins of thousands, and these challenges aren't terribly likely to be more than sound and fury. And while I have more existential worries about the rage a leadership*, who has repudiated a smooth democratic ceding of power by being derelict in their civic duty, will gin up among their disgruntled constituency in favor of political expediency and fundraising opportunities, these worries are about a sort of we-shall-see domino effect that is less urgent and immediate than the "Hi I'm here to snort cocaine and be a racist authoritarian.....and I'm all out of cocaine" that Trump brought us.
[*And I use that word very loosely]
I'm not sure if my issues with sitting and focusing and writing for hours had more to do with Trump and the approaching election or if it was the pandemic exacerbated the political situation even though it somehow wasn't that bad in and of itself (and without BOTH factors working in tandem, I wouldn't really be that affected*), but whatever the case, as the projections became apparent on Saturday morning, it was as if the sky parted. The eclipse of stress and anxiety moved and there was my muse the whole time.
I've been writing well ever since.
[*Person one: "You got your global pandemic in my rising fascism!" Person two: "You got your rising fascism in my global pandemic." Narrator's voice: "For the two existential crises that existentialateizeify horribly together, try 2020!"]
Meta (what's coming up in the final days of 2020):
So I'd love to tell you that, starting tomorrow, it's just going to be like a switch was flipped and everything is back to 2015 productivity. And dozens of unicorns will burst forth from my every orifice, shooting rainbow beams of horns like M61 Vulcan cannons of creative mojo. And everywhere the rainbow light hits turns into a creative work. Car? BAM...article. House? BAM....short story. Skyscraper? BAM....entire novel.
First of all....there's still a pandemic on. Even though it seems like maybe that (at least not by itself) wasn't what was slowing my creativity down, I still work as a nanny a bit more than is optimal for all the writing I want to be doing. My clients are saints, but we're all stretched a little too thin right now. Ideally I would pop over for a couple of hours a day, make just enough to be able to afford brand name instant oatmeal, see the kids just long enough that it doesn't really feel like a chore, and then hunker down writing the rest of the time. But since I'm one of the only people who can shelter in place with just my clients without having a spouse who works retail, a pod that adds five extra people to my immunocompromised client's circle of potential exposure, or a plague rat who is like "fuck it, I'm going to hang out with ten close friends who each have wide exposure because I'm just so fucking DONE being isolated." I'm still working that job as much as I can POSSIBLY handle, taking on extra nanny hours and helping with the housework.
Which is all just to say that the pandemic may no longer be slowing my ideas down, but I have some real world limitations of time that I still have to deal with. While there should be a pretty decent uptick, I won't be back to my fighting weight until enough people are vaccinated that my clients can get their other nanny and housekeeper back into the rotation. In the meantime I'll just have to write a lot of notes down.
The first of the stream of article-transforming rainbow creative unicorn Vulcan cannon blasts is going to go on "behind the scenes." My top priority in the next week or two is going to be to reward the INFINITE patience of my Patrons. For the better part of a year, they've put up with my reduced productivity not just in the form of less writing, but even more directly, as I've had trouble keeping up with Newsletters, "selfies," and various rewards for the reward tiers. While most people cancel or reduce contributions because of their financial situation, a few let me know they're not going to keep paying me while I'm dropping the ball.
My patrons keep the lights on around here and are my first priority. And by the way, if you want to become a patron, I'm always happy to have a bit more financial support. I got a rent to pay like everyone else and a powerful, if dreadfully inconvenient, need to eat from time to time. It's been a tough year with the global recession, and I've lost a lot of income in the last couple of months. I have some great rewards at very low tiers, and as much as I love my big donors, it is many smaller donors forming a bedrock of support that keep one big patron's job loss in Michigan (or something) from cutting my income by 10%. Many smaller donors are my bread and butter.
This is as close as I'll be getting to an appeals post until I'm back up to snuff on my posting schedule, but I really COULD use the help if you've got a dollar or three a month to spare.
I have some admin-type posts to put up while all this behind-the-scenes action is going on, and I'm going to continue to ask for (and post) a LOT of mailbox questions, so it won't be a ghost town here but it might be a while before we're back on our regular schedule.
Every year, the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day are kind of a mess. I have always kept posting, but I've learned to accept the chaos, and the holiday gods regularly demand offerings of "a day you were planning on getting some work done." I have no idea what holidays+pandemic is even going to look like.
I tried everything, including Google, and I can't seem to find a decent replacement for a poll that can A) run a widget in the blog so that we get a robust number of responses, B) handle more than a couple hundred responses a day on a poll that goes on for a few weeks, while C) not being a $30+/month subscription for something I'm going to be using maybe once every two months. Many can do one and a few can do two, but nothing seems to be able to do all three.
So there's some big changes coming in how we will do the future of our polls. They may not even actually be "polls" at all. Stay tuned.
I know I've been threatening everyone with more fiction since, well....probably about 2014 or so, but now I'm under deadline, so it's actually definitely (probably) going to happen. Jay Henge Publishing (which is run by a friend and where I've published before) has a contest going on about under-represented groups called Non Binary Stars (it's the top middle column of the link I just posted). The deadline is January 1st, and I'm going to be on lockdown writing, rewriting, revising and polishing the shit out of the story I'm working on. That will almost certainly eat up some days.
My idea might be too meta for them and I'll post it here right away, or they might publish it, and I'll give them a couple of months to run it exclusively first. Either way, you'll always eventually get all my fiction here.
However, I've just been informed that they only have FIVE submissions thus far, so you should definitely be brave.
But you can still find writerly wisdom if you look.
As meta and personal as this post is, I think there's still a lesson here for writers, and not just the one I've been repeating on a loop over the last year. That lesson being that you have to both give yourself a little space to be human and drop some balls when life is rearing its ugly head all extra and head-reary, but also you have to recognize that the goal of doing art or entertainment or even sports (quite like brain surgery) FOR. A. LIVING. will require a lot of work and no small initial investment into your skill set. And that is quite the needle to thread.
Only you know for sure, Grasshopper, whether you are being kind to yourself in a well-needed-self-care kind of way or if this time next year, you're going to be ranting about how impossible writing is to fit into your schedule, even though you are in the highest-tier raiding guild on World of Warcraft, play Warhammer 40k every weekend with your pals (and drive a few hours of uber a week for a dedicated figurines budget), work out four nights a week, all while working a full time job where you put in a few extra hours a week because you're bucking for a promotion so that you can eat out at nice restaurants more often.
I mean, that's true. You really DO have to find that balance. Especially in a pandemic when you're a crowdfunded writer, and everyone is saying to "go easy on yourself," but some of the exit interviews on Patreon are still like "Sorry, brah, but I was promised a monthly newsletter...."
But I've been banging that drum all pandemic, so I feel like we've kind of covered it.
There is, of course, another lesson. It's the light at the end of the tunnel lesson––the one I couldn't have really gotten anyone to believe unless I was coming out of the "long dark night of the soul" (that, apparently, the cliché calls home). I'm still not sure that I'm not jumping the gun a little. I mean, I'm telling you all how much better I feel and that I'm ready to leave flame trails wherever I go, but it's possible this message would be more salient after a month or two of absolutely tearing things up.
But I'm going to drop this wisdom anyway. Because the alternative is another pass at that "find the balance thing" and JFC, it is so last month.
This lesson is "good news" after a fashion. (We get so little of it in this business!) It is the reward that comes from long weeks and months and sometimes even years of "paying our dues." It is how artists have those incredible moments of outlandish productivity. It's how they have a body of work over a lifetime that is mammothian. When all the factors are aligned against you and it seems like the hosts of heaven and hell themselves are trying to keep you from writing, if you just keep finding the time to do something, and you just keep pushing, when all those factors go away, suddenly your productivity explodes. All that work and discipline during the hard times was like running across the beach with cement shoes. Suddenly you take them off and get on pavement and the hard work and discipline muscles propel your unfettered feet like you have those little Hermes winged shoes or something.
Here's the thing though. If you toss your writing onto the back burner at the first sign of trouble, and turn that burner off when shit really gets extra.....when life gets back to normal, that discipline isn't there. Like an athlete who hasn't trained or a musician who hasn't practiced, you'll find your skills rusty, your discipline lackluster, your motivation lacking. Writing doesn't like to have a lid thrown over it as it goes room temperature. You may even start to find reasons for continuing not to write, like imperfect office space or non-ergonomic keyboards or lack of time now that the raiding guild in WOW is asking everyone to do at least two hours of mat farming to buy in on the big five hour-raids. That discipline only finds purchase in easier times if it's been there all along. If you want to rise like a cliché from the ashes, you have to have been laying the groundwork the whole time.
|Does this have anything to do with the point being made? |
Shut up. Google is hard.
Everyone should write as much as makes them content (lord knows there's little other reason to do so because let me tell ya, the glamour, fame, and fortune are HIGHLY exaggerated). However, for folks who want to have an audience, fans, maybe even a modest income, the lesson that you CAN'T only write when it feels good and everything's going great can't be underscored enough. (Imagine ANY job where you just didn't go to work when you weren't feeling it.) But there's another reason to slog when the slogging gets rough: once the ground firms up again, suddenly you have the discipline and the habit forged in those unforgiving circumstances. And when that happens, you can REALLY kick ass and take names.