My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

On a Slow Week (Personal Update/Mailbox)

I'm pretty sure this is the exact moment I realized that the
flatulence was not a thrice off event, but was going to be a thing.
Image description:Writer on a plane,
between two people, looking uncomfortable.
Currently I'm on a plane. I'm sitting between two people, both asleep, and near someone who is either having unconscionable gastrointestinal issues or cares nothing for the etiquette of farting prodigiously into a closed air system. I'm trying to pull myself inward to occupy as little space as possible as I write this on my laptop. It's seven in the morning, and I had to be out the door by 4:50 after five hours of sleep. I am hurtling east in a metal tube with nothing but peanuts to sustain me in a chair that is literally designed to be so uncomfortable that people will pay to upgrade it.

And I'm writing.

Not making excuses about how I need to be in the mood or I can't write well if I'm not in a good space. Writing.

This isn't really a mailbox because it's not responding to any one comment or letter that I've gotten, but over the last year there have been a trickle of folks who seem fit to point out that my productivity has been low lately.

And they're right. It has. Fluff posts. Missed days. Weekends off. Sometimes I don't even get you all some cute excuse involving velociraptors with lasers. Some days I look up and think "No way. Not today. Fuck!"

The last year has, without exaggeration or hyperbole, been the worst of my life. (There is a non-zero chance that the coming year might involve the salmon moose and be even worse, but let's not talk about that.) A loved one with cancer and then supporting them through chemo, a relationship separation, a major lifestyle downgrade and move. All to the background hum of a two year old living up to his Contrarian namesake. ("Do you want to go to Disneyland?" "NO!" "Do you want to go to Toddlertopia?" "NO!" [I'm in big trouble the day he pauses and says..."yes."]) My productivity has been in the toilet, and even though I'm gearing up for the most ambitious project of my life and a period of epic output starting Monday, it's going to be 96 hours of catch-as-catch-can (yet again) before I can begin.

However, though I claim no extraordinary output among writers, and am probably actually on the low side of average I would like to unpack this a bit. Not to defend myself from spurious accusations of hypocrisy, which are barely even eye-roll worthy, but so that this blog continues its mission to be a real-time example of how to achieve some measure of success with writing. The Nelson shadenfraude "HaHa!"ers and the sincere writers wondering if I just decided to go TV Evangelist level hypocrite both potentially miss the mark on this one.

Writers can't always write as much as they want, and sometimes they don't always want to write as much as they know they should. There isn't always time when life gets turned up to eleven and decides to start making sure you know who's whose butt monkey. And even when there is time, it's hard to sit and make a hilarious as fuck listicle when you just got told you needed to move out.

But let's take a quick inventory.
  • I write every single day. For at least an hour. It might be a stream of consciousness journal if I don't have the bandwidth for drafting and revising a blog post, and on some really tough days it might be an e-mail and a couple of Facebook posts, but some kind of writing happens daily.
  • I read for at least two or three hours a day. Again it might be a lot of articles and blogs I find through social media if my blocked time or mental fortitude isn't up for digging into a novel, but it is still a minimum.
  • I get a blog post of some kind up every weekday. Even if it's just fluff. In excess of 7-10 pages a week of material.
  • I write about a page a day on my current work in progress (right now that's the book that I kickstarted).
  • I am usually drafting or revising some form of short fiction, even if that work is glacial when I'm overwhelmed.
  • I write at least one "crunchy" article a week. And if I'm not currently in crisis, it's usually two.
  • Though I may bottom out at an hour of writing, my daily average is more like three.
  • I have written on buses, planes, trains, on the floor of a room with no bed, in hospitals, restaurants, and in a stairwell while waiting for an appointment. I have written during spare moments of as little as 10 minutes while I waited for a bathroom to be free. I have written longhand when my computer battery died.
That's me being unproductive. That's me in the worst slump of my life. I don't say this to brag and certainly not to do the Bruce Lee coup-de-gras kidney twist on anyone who dares impugn me for asking, but as a yardstick for folks who are wondering what a paid-but-still-mostly-day-jobbed writer puts out when their life is doing its very best trashcan fire impersonation. 

And when I talk to other professional writers (or as-of-yet-unpublished-but-hardcore-about-their-craft writers) about their dry spells, I often find pretty much the same thing. "Slow" output for them is one to three pages a day (or about a thousand pages a year aggregate) instead of more like 5-10. They may have a hard time focusing on a major project, but they still poke at it–and work on side projects or keep up with a journal or something. They keep their craft from getting dull. Or when they lose the time they'd like to be writing because of some life-shattering crisis, they still carve out just as much as they possibly can and spackle in the empty spots if they have to.

So keep perspective in mind when you see writers going into a slump. Their "slumps" often look like some other people's crunch times.

Now....I'm off to D.C., and in literally four days I'll be upshifting to a writing schedule that more closely mirrors working writers, and going full throttle on writing a novel over the next year, but as I transition out of this long twilight period of my writing life, remember that part of the reason people are saying "But Chris, how do you pay half your bills with writing?" or "But Chris, how are you ready by over a thousand readers a day?" is entirely because even through this epic level life fuckery, I have never stopped writing....a lot. 


  1. There is no doubt the you seem to make every effort humanly possible to practice what you preach. Through bad times and worse during the course of the last year you always seemed to find the time to at least say "Hi". What inspires me the most is that in spite of all of the challenges you can still find the heart to write. It can't be easy having so much to deal with, so much hanging over your head, and still mustering the spirit to sit down, put it all aside for those few minutes, and manage to put some coherent, informative (and usually humorous) words to print. That, to me, is a spirit I'd like to emulate. thanks for the perseverance and the inspiration.

    1. Thank you for saying so. Nice to hear the good stuff once in a while.

  2. Thanks for the inspiration (aka guilt) that sends me into a self-shaming episode for not writing. You are the kick in the ass I need sometimes when I find myself going into the "I'll write tomorrow" mode. Anyone who writes knows all too well how easy it is to slack off, to make excuses why they aren't writing and your posts are a slap back into reality. Thanks for the tough love.

    1. If I help you get writing, I'll call it a win.

  3. I'm the fool who posted on your fb page today. I started reading this post of yours and I really wanted to tell you I'm serious. And I think you're kind of doing what I'm looking for but not exactly. If anyone can understand, I think you just might.

    1. Hi. I get a lot of comments on my FB page. More than I can keep up with or read. Can you link the specific post or repeat what you said here?

    2. I'm looking for books written by women. They're writing a fiction story and including their thinking about the process of writing the story and their life. Does this make sense? Has anyone ever attempted this insanity?

  4. As my friend Ben Franklin wrote so many years ago: "Fart Proudly"......