Welcome

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

Friday, June 26, 2020

Why Are You So Hard on Yourself? (6 Lessons for the Would-Be Working Writer)

One of the most common questions I'm asked by friends, loved ones, folks who follow my Facebook, my Patrons sometimes, and those of you here who pay closeish attention to the meta of my writing life is why I am so hard on myself. Why do I write so much? Why am I constantly pushing myself, even in the midst of global pandemics, to be more prolific? Why do I worry about my "productivity" when that is a capitalist construct? Why?

These questions have ramped up during Covid and the Shelter In Place rules as I've dealt with a particularly fractured attention span, incredible difficulty writing full articles day after day, and the guilt associated with falling behind on the pace that I usually expect of myself.

These are valid questions. They're worth answering. Let me get my pen. (By which, of course, I mean I shall continue typing on my computer.)

However, before we proceed to the unpacking, I want to share another common theme of questions I get EVEN MORE than the questions above. In fact, other than "Is anyone sitting here?", this (these) are the questions I get the most from strangers. It is also overwhelmingly the most common question I get from folks who like my blog but don't really follow it. From friends who know I'm a writer, but don't pay attention to my work. From any audience I sit in front of, no matter what I'm there to talk about. And from aaaaaaaalmost any aspiring writer who finds out that I scrape out a paycheck from writing upon which I could live if I didn't insist on living in the Bay Area and eating brand name frozen waffles. These questions go like this: "How did you make it as a writer?" "How can I make it as a writer?" "What did you do to break in?" "How have you managed to make writing your job?" 

And while one of my ongoing struggles is threading the needle between self-care and pushing myself, and while I absolutely don't want to make light of workaholism so severe that if I'm not paying attention, it will approach self-harm levels, I do not believe for an instant that these two things are unrelated. Keep this in mind going forward. Because it's important to understand that when I give myself a hard time and apologize and promise to do better, I'm only OSTENSIBLY doing so to my patrons. 

It's really me I'm talking to. It's really that driving passion of an artist to create. That part that has nothing at all to do with "productivity as a capitalist construct" and everything to do with "I must keep creating like a shark has to keep swimming."

People being too hard on themselves is a problem. (And believe me, my doctor told me I was going to kill myself from heart disease if I didn't start seeing it AS a problem.) Unrealistic expectations hurt our self-esteem when we're NOT enduring a collective cultural trauma. We have to be kind to ourselves. We have to self-care. We have to manage our expectations. 

But also a problem is basically giving oneself a pass. ("Eh, collective trauma. Whatryagonnado?" "Capitalism is a scam. Whatryagonnado?") Believing one's own bullshit. Buying one's own excuses. Avoiding work because "self-care." Wondering why one is not a published author after years––YEARS––of writing two or even three times every month. 

I think most people struggling with "the air/fuel mixture" are being way, way, WAY nicer to themselves than will get them to their hopes and dreams, and that the people with careers folks want to emulate almost always have "overdoing it....at least a little" in common.
There's a needle that needs threading, and I'm not saying I'm threading it, but I know it's there. 

Lesson #1- If you have goals, you can't be too easy on yourself. You may have to put in some long hours and weekends when you're still working a day job and writing.

Okay, now onto the response.....

FIRST OF ALL, YOU'RE GODDAMNED RIGHT.  

I work too much. I have a few of.....let's call them "issues" that surround writing.

One of them is that I love it, so I hardly think of it as working. (Or it involves being online which I consider "fucking off," so even though it's work directly related to maintaining a Facebook page or networking, it clocks on my internal odometer as "wasted time.") This creates problems when I wake up, write for five or six hours and then go to my second job where I nanny children for five or six hours. Problems like......I come home and wonder why I'm so tired or why a "part time" day kicked my ass so hard.

You're probably already thinking, "But Chris, that's a 10-12 hour day."

Congratulations, dear reader, you are already making better life choices than I usually do.

Lesson #2- Don't be like Chris. (He needs to turn it down from 11 and learn to have some fucking chill.)

Another problem that works against me is how often I forget the little things. I sometimes spend an hour writing a Facebook post reacting to a news article or just trying to frame something so that maybe––just maybe––my fellow white dudes might GET it. Often I fall into the trap of considering that "fucking off on Facebook" and not "buckling down and doing some 'real' writing." 

I also get really stuck in the idea that only certain topics COUNT. I have several totally-FINISHED articles that I could put. And I mean I have dozens of them and they are absolutely final-draft finished. I could put them up for weeks while I let incredibly well-paid fruit dispensers feed me grapes on a beach (right now, from six feet away with a grape launcher). I would enjoy the impossibly white sand and implausibly sapphire water. But I worry that those articles don't "count" towards what people want to see because they are too focused on politics or too rooted in a culture war issue like guns or too this or too that. So I trickle them in when I feel like I've done "enough" on the other writing that I believe people are tuning in for. Which, of course, is a goal that I almost never hit: "enough." And that means all that writing effort is just sitting in the wings as I turn around and write something else that "counts."

Lesson #3- It's really easy to get a sense of "Give the audience what they want" and "Keep them coming back for more" and lose a sense of what YOU want to be doing as an artist. Especially if you're right on the edge between making enough and not.

As if all that weren't enough, I also suffer from the very common, very-normal-for-artists imposter syndrome, and I tend to believe that if I'm not writing "enough," people will see through me. So while I have tons of "filler" posts I could drop or more fun things I could do like check in on the "WAW Staff" ––and perhaps most importantly, IT IS STUFF I REALLY WANT TO BE WRITING––I feel like writing little posts like this wouldn't "count," and people would see through me, and become disenchanted. So I tend to believe I've "earned" these more fun and frivolous posts after I've knocked some good ones out of the park. 

Again with the "enough."

So the first thing I have to do is cop to this accusation of "working too hard." You're right. I work too much. I'm too hard on myself, probably when I don't need to be. Between my personal insecurities, financial insecurities, and artistic insecurities, I am absolutely constantly trying to "prove myself."

Lesson #4- Writing is work. Even if you enjoy it. Promotion is work. Networking is work. Its ease compared to nannying two kids doesn't make it NOT work.


BUT....

YOU MAY NOT CARE (AND FUCK, I LOVE YOU FOR IT), BUT SOME DO

When I have a bad month––and by that I don't mean a month where my fee-fees get repeatedly hurt by cute girls who stop texting me, I mean a month of low productivity––I lose patrons. I might not lose all of them, and let me take a moment to clearly shout from the rooftops that those who are patient while my productivity goes down are wonderful. 

But some do go. 

And sometimes the exit "interviews" they fill out even say shit like, "You don't update enough for me to pay for this" or "You were writing more when I signed up."

Sometimes they tell me my politics suck and I'm the real bigot, and I think, "How did you even end up here?" but that's probably off topic for this article.

Now, before you clutch your pearls, I should nuancify this. Most people who cancel or lower their monthly contribution clearly do so because of their financial situation. They sometimes tell me or leave a note or fill out the exit interview with apologies (which I should take a moment to say here, as someone on a shoestring budget, I totally understand). Still....some definitely have a thing or three to say about how they've ALSO noticed I'm having a bad month.

And all that and $2.19+tax would buy me a single serving bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. By which I mean that people do leave. And maybe they just have a coming-to-budget moment when they notice they haven't seen a good article in a while, or maybe they just don't want to hurt my feelings so they make something up, but a shitty month correlates pretty reliably with me losing around 5% of my income. And believe it or not, if I have two bad months in a row, that pay cut happens again.

I don't know what your life and paycheck look like, but you probably wouldn't want to go too easy on yourself if you knew it were going to mean a pay cut every month.

Lesson #5- Most patrons will support artists through some tough times. Some won't. Unless you can afford to lose the ones that won't, don't go TOO easy on yourself.


I WOULDN'T HAVE LAURELS TO REST ON (EVEN FOR A MOMENT––EVEN IN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC) IF I HADN'T WORKED THIS HARD.

The reason I'm where I am, with hundreds of patrons telling me to chill the fuck out and take care of myself, is not because I spent the last eight years tossing up a couple of good posts a month. These folks know I'll be "back" (probably with a trilogy, two hundred articles, and some sort of beard) in a fan-fucking-tastic year of productive utopia because I have established a credibility as a prolific writer (and a massive body of works). I wouldn't be making enough to (barely) scrape by if I had given myself a day off every time I wanted one. (Although I probably should have been a little kinder to myself on at least a FEW occasions. See above.)  I wouldn't have the patrons who DO have faith in me during my slow times if I didn't have a well-established reputation. Frankly, I wouldn't be making as much if I wrote significantly less.

Lesson #6- There's a LOT of content between you and a robust patronage who will have patience through your difficult times.

I know it's shitty to realize that you probably won't establish a writing career if you don't overdo it at LEAST a little, and everyone has to find their own peace with that and their personal strategy for surviving capitalism. Probably most people you ever knew who were fantastically good at something overdid it a little. Had long days. Worked weekends. Gave it more gas than the folks who wanted a functional work/life balance and a robust set of complementary priorities. And while you absolutely want to make sure you know that writing (or art of any kind) is work even when it feels like it isn't, and that you factor in enough self-care to safeguard your health both physical and mental, you also have to understand that you are your own "boss" when it comes to writing, and your ambitions are directly tied to just one fucking metric asston of hard work. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for these wonderful words. As a writer, it is certainly difficult at times. I think these tips should be a part of guide to content writing for all writers out there.

    ReplyDelete