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

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Why Do You Keep Apologizing For Not Writing? Five reasons. (Mailbox)

OOOOOoooooOOOOh what'll really bake your noodle
is when you realize that I post these more for myself than
anyone else.
Note 1: I have created a composite question from "Mary," based on what a number of you have written in either my blog comments, here on Facebook, emails, social media private messages, and such. The general sentiment tends to be that I shouldn't worry about my productivity. That I should take the time I need to recover from cancer. That I should stop apologizing for weeks I barely write. I should just take time off and not worry about excuses. I write why I'm NOT writing more often than I write.  It's one of those situations where I feel pulled (hard) in a couple of different directions. There's a few very salient reasons I talk about my productivity, but maybe they're not obvious to everyone, so let me tell you the top five.

Note 2: I'm still looking for more questions, so please send them in to chris.brecheen@gmail.com

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox." I will use your first name ONLY, unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox. You got your mailbox in my listicle. You got your listicle in my mailbox.] 

Mary asks:

Why do you apologize so much for not writing. We don't need to hear your apologies all the time. Just take some time off. It's okay. I'm actually finding the apologies more annoying than I do if you just took some time off. You seem to be writing about why you're not writing more than you're writing about writing.

My reply:

Fair enough. I could probably be better about this, but it's not behavior that exists in a vacuum either. Trust me when I tell you that I would get (and have gotten) probably just as much input (and probably more aggressive) if I were simply going quiet and NOT telling people what was going on. So it makes it super difficult to know how to handle things when I'm having a tough time.

1- I don't actually apologize….well, mostly…kinda. Okay maybe I do, but not, like, THAT much.

If you roll the tape back, I don't think you'll find I am apologizing. Okay, that's not entirely true. I'm sure you might find a few apologies in there somewhere, even after 2019 or so. (I've put words to paper in almost every mood I've been in, so I'm pretty sure I felt contrite about it at SOME point.) But mostly it's more like just telling people what's going on. And sometimes that involves admitting that I'm not going to finish what I wanted to on time.

It's like calling in sick. 

I kind of get why it might feel like I'm apologizing. The usual script for capitalism IS an apology if someone can't do the work. People say "sorry" when they call in sick as a matter of ritual, even if they aren't really all that sorry. Whether you are calling into a boss or a client or whatever, there's this sense that you're letting someone down if you aren't able to do the work, and so you must be penitent. ("I'm so sorry, but I had pneumonia, and have died. Apologies for letting down the team.") And if you think you're going to be better by next week, say so, and AREN'T, then you really owe someone some grovelling. And sometimes I feel bad that I'm not living up to even my lowered standards, or I'm disappointed in MYSELF, or I'm anxious about losing income or followers. Or I say something like "I know I said I would X, but…" I probably imply the full apology by the way I write out what's happening and why it means I'm not going to make a self-imposed deadline. But I don't mean it to be a sort of compunctuous confession. ("Oh, dear reader, please forgive me…")

More weather report. Less editorial.

2- I promised I would/This is part of the process.

I, very explicitly, want to tell you about the process of writing in real time.

That's even part of my mission statement—one of the three main things I hope to accomplish with this blog. I want you to know that even a working writer has big moments of deep and profound insecurity and is constantly struggling against the feeling that they're not doing enough. I want you to see how it isn't magic and projectile unicorn vomit rainbows that make A Writer™. We have bad days. We have bad weeks. Sometimes we even have bad months or YEARS. 

But we keep setting deadlines and showing up to do our best. And a body of work slowly grows, and when life is a little better we have the self-discipline to really be prolific.

I know that sometimes I share my anxieties about not having written—or I go on about how I feel like I should be writing. And I want to be clear about this: for every writer I have ever known that could possibly be considered successful by any bellwether, the guilt from not writing is very real. Unless they lose a limb or can't get out of bed, every day off is a particular agony. They all feel it. That sense that they've let someone down—even if it's just themselves—is acute.

This is more to show you under the hood than to ask for your forgiveness. I want you to know what being a writer is like. It's natural to feel this way, and it might even help you. Most working writers feel like they're not doing enough ALL. THE. TIME. Which leads me to my next point…

3- I'm hard on myself. Yes, I am.

I know I'm harder on me than basically anyone. I KNOW that. Even my patrons, who actually give me money to write, don't say the things to me that I say to myself about my productivity. I've even drilled down with a therapist to work on being a little LESS hard on myself. We spent weeks just talking about how perfectionism and abandonment issues have shaped my expectations of myself.

But I also know there's a needle to thread

Pause. Story time:

The question I get asked the most is how to be a working writer. How to make money. How to be read. How to achieve these milestones of "success" that I seem to have achieved. How can this person emulate my career.

The thing most people take umbrage with is the idea that writing is hard, hard work. They kind of get that idea conceptually ("Of COURSE it is! I'm no fool!"), but when you show them what "hard, hard work" actually LOOKS like, there's a lot of pushback and sticker shock. Whether that is bucking the idea of writing every day or just fiercely defending the idea that time off from writing should be liberally applied anytime one is under the weather, and anything less is being too hard on oneself.

These two facts are not unconnected. You're not going to get career-caliber results from hobby-treatment effort. Ever. If you just want to be a hobby writer, I have a whole series on why that's totally okay, and should always be for anyone. However, if you want the typical things people want when they envision a successful writing career, it's going to take more than a few days where you're writing when you don't quite feel like it.

I'm not a particularly great writer. I'm prolific (usually), and my editor can help me come off as a lot better than I deserve to. But for the most part, I get to "good" writing by doing lots of it (including having done it day after day after day for DECADES of practice) and massive revision. The reason I'm a working writer—the reason I have a career and can pay the bills doing this and have an audience and even fans—is really only because I am very, VERY careful with the line between needed self-care and the slippery slope of accepting my own excuses. Writing is my job, which means having a keen sense of when I'm "calling in" too much or really need to buckle down. I don't think I'd be here without just a little bit of overwork. Not so much that I am engaging in a socially acceptable form of self-harm, like maybe I was back before 2018 or so, but juuuuuuuuust enough that I am giving writing the effort required for the career I want to have from it.

So a lot of my posts are kind of memos to myself. I am keeping myself accountable. I'm not just taking the day off scott free. I'm reminding myself that if I do this TOO much, I'll start to pay a price.

4- I'm a crowdfunded content creator.

Art and entertainment can be tough if you can't create—even for a relatively short period of time. Only the household names can rest on their laurels for very long before the "overdue" notifications start filling up the mailbox. I don't exactly have a boss who would call me into the office and talk to me about my lagging performance. If I take too much time off, I just lose patrons (and thus money). My income starts to go down when I don't write.  And I'm already barely making ends meet here in the Bay Area. So I have to be my own boss. 

But in another way, I have a couple hundred bosses. They also won't call me into the office for an uncomfortable conversation. But they WILL just stop paying me if my performance stops matching their expectations. Often a cancelled patron is the only feedback I ever get.

Some patrons are incredibly patient and understanding. Some are at the end of their rope. Some are patrons just to support me and don't care what my update schedule is like. Some (understandably) want me to get them the rewards I promised for their tier of support.

I know we all want me to fully recover from cancer before taking back up the onus of such hard work. But I have bills to pay. So letting people know that I am actually really struggling and really trying and kind of doing the best I can. At the very least I am AWARE of how much I'm kind of taking advantage of them right now. And I have every intention of making a comeback. These things sort of help keep the folks who are paying my rent looped in on everything that's going on.

5- You may not care, but some people do.

If 90% of my patrons are patient and ten percent are done supporting me, that's a great ratio of supportive people…on a personal level.

But now think about what your life would look like if you took a ten percent pay cut. And I make kind of okay income, but in a place with an outrageous cost of living, so I'm technically only about 25% over the local poverty line. My income starts going down the MINUTE I take more than a few days in a row off.

I am surrounded by incredibly supportive people (who I adore, don't deserve, and get a little teary thinking about), but in the crappy position of worrying the most about those few who aren't.

I can see exit interviews for patrons that say things like "Sorry Chris. You have stopped writing." or "I was expecting more posts based on how much you wrote when I signed up." And those are the people who say anything at all—most just cancel. So when I write a post about why I'm not writing, sometimes it's because I'm so acutely aware of what's at stake and that simply taking one more day off might be the last straw.

Folks, I'll work on this. Obviously what I really want is just to be back in the saddle and writing prolifically again, but I love you all, and I don't want folks to feel uncomfortable because I'm talking too much about why I'm NOT writing. Maybe there's a better balance to be found between looping people in and not constantly talking about every day off with full transparency about the anxiety it causes me. There can be some real stress when I haven't put out good articles and I feel like there are reasons to keep people—particularly patrons—informed about what's going on and why I'm kind of fumbling the ball so much lately. I'd like to be doing appeals posts and gaining patrons (rather than losing them) and I REALLY feel weird about that when I haven't been knocking out some articles lately. But even just trying to hold on to what I have, I am worried about not being transparent enough. And I'm worried about being too transparent. 

And writing is hard.

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