Friday, October 25, 2013

Dropping Off Some Heavy Packs On My Writer's Journey

For the last year, I've been relatively open about the anxiety, self-doubt, and panic-attacks that have been consistently showing up uninvited at my house.  Just last week I'm pretty sure they ate the last bag of chips and didn't even bother to wipe the crumbs off the couch.  These demons can be cruel little buggers and a real pain in the ass in one's quest to be the happiest person in the universe.  I've blamed the plagues for some of my periods of utter lack of output on this blog, but never shied away from admitting the irony that such a very lack ramps up the strength of these foes.

I'm kind of tired of them, and ready to permanently show them the door.  I also realize they'll always be peeking through the windows, because they appear to be a constant companion for creative types and one of the "free gifts" that come with self-employment.   They've been screaming a little too loudly lately, and I've got a toddler that we try to put to bed by 7:30.  They can hang out at the front of the house with the ominous sign and skunks.  I've got much more pleasant things I'd rather replace them with, such as confidence, success, and Pop Tarts.

Before I reveal my latest strategy towards sanity, I want to back up and focus on that mysterious toddler I referred to in the past paragraph.  The extra observant among you likely concluded the toddler was none other than my son Everett.  Unless you were under the mistaken impression I offer a Bed & Breakfast for the very young -- which I don't, but will happily take the cash payment you'd have given to any such odd establishment.  I want to mention Everett, because he is in a tricky spot of being indirectly involved with some of my greatest bouts of strife and turmoil but also directly being the source of my greatest happiness.  It is always curious how our greatest joys can also somehow trigger some great pains.

If you regularly read this site or actually know me, then you're aware that Emily and I have opted at the moment to take a pass on Day Care.  Mostly because they appear to expect a payment that is several steps above the half eaten cheese in our fridge.  Besides, I like cheese, and would rather not part with it if such a thing can be avoided.  Emily returned to work last January, but it was also in a part time capacity.  I was initially quite stressed about the shift, because I had already felt I never got as much writing done as I desired even with her home looking after our treasure.  As I've documented before, I started really savoring my mornings with my son, and one of the greatest highlights of the day was getting him out of bed in the morning and seeing his face light up with my entrance.  I have a strong fondness for that that little boy, but I sense it may be part of nature's design to stop me from tossing him over the fence after he redecorates the floor with broccoli for the seventh straight time.

Mornings with Everett were magic, even if I wasn't meeting the standards I'd felt was necessary for daily writing productivity.  Even while Emily was part-time I started suffering from anxiety and what I don't want to necessarily label as depression.  I also mentioned these things here on the site while Emily was part-time, and my emotional breaking started to reveal cracks in my stability during the summer when Emily was home every day.  It is rather paramount to acknowledge a large part of this battle has nothing to do with juggling parenting with writing.  It is the easiest thing to pinpoint, and so it is what I want to use for the purpose of this article.  Simplification can be a writer's friend.

Emily agreed to take on a full-time teaching schedule for this semester, so for about the last months or so, I've had full days with Everett.  It also so happens Emily has found herself working some later days since taking on the new class as well, so my precious time with Everett has extended even farther than the amount that was causing me sleepless nights before everything became official.

Now, this is the spot where I also most confess that I did tell Emily to take the position.  I promised that I could handle it.  Since I haven't exploded into a fine dust, I'd say surviving is what I've done and things have worked out just fine and dandy.  Or as fine and dandy as things can be when you consider I'm using the situation to explain my anxiety, self-doubt, and emotional breakdowns.

Emily being full-time means a large portion of my day has been occupied with Everett.  He usually wakes up around 8 (thought lately he has been trying to aim for an earlier wake-up time) and then naps for about 2 hours, though again, sometimes he tries to surprise me with a 45 minute special.  I try to squeeze most of my during the day writing into the time before he wakes up and his afternoon nap.  When he is awake, he expects for the most part that I am entertaining him or at least, marveling at his running with toys skills.  I'll occasionally try to do some work that doesn't require too much brain power while he is awake (which is where some of you may act shocked that this isn't just a regular thing for me), but it isn't often too long before he comes over to help me smash away at the keyboard.  Unfortunately, a client is yet to pay for any of his masterpieces.  He seems destined to be the next Franz Kafka or John Kennedy Toole to be appreciated after his time.

The bulk of my work has to be reserved during the evening. This also means my relationship with Emily has largely consisted of "How was work?",  "How was Everett?", and  "I'm going upstairs to write now."  Since I get up fairly early to try to cram much of what I need done while the prince slumbers, I tend to be a little groggy and less amped to create word magic at night.  I've still written some of my best stuff during these times, but it does tend to come out a tad slower than when I had entire mornings to create.

The stress comes from a place of not feeling there is enough writing hours in the day.  A stress that may actually still exist even if there wasn't an expectation I father the little human wandering around in my home.  As I've already admitted, there are other factors to the chipping away at my emotional health, and some just seem to be the reality of who I am.  There is a definite anxiety feeling that "I never have time to write" or at least, "write at the level I aspire" and it feels like a constant race against deadlines.  I also feel I pass on work because I can barely wiggle a finger as I'm buried under a mountain of pay copy.  I mentioned how I tend to see very little of Emily, but that isn't how she envisions her marriage turning out.  A weekend comes along, and she rightly thinks it is time to spend together or as a family.  I hate that what should be leisure often feels like a chore, because I am plagued with the burning sensation that the time should be spent finally getting that report or article done.

Then this is where I throw in the swerve for today's tale by revealing some of my happiest times are my days with Everett.  I still get pure joy entering his room in the morning and Everett shouting my name with glee.  I like that he can now tell me most of his building blocks' colours, and sometimes it is even the right ones.  I love making his stuffed toys talk, and then watch him try to do the same.  I look pushing cars around the kitchen floor.  I love seeing how excited he becomes when he realizes we're going on a walk to the park.  My time with Everett is special.  I love it more than almost anything, and while it is happening, I rarely feel the anxiety or stress and "the thing I don't want to call depression."  Looking after Everett feeds my soul and makes me leap for the clouds.

Then I get my time to write.  I look at what needs to be done.  I see my small window of time.  Those awful feelings start dancing in gut and trying chew away at the once replenished soul.  It leaves scars that sometimes make me less patient and worn-out for the next time I'm set to adventure with Everett.  The worries start to take the physical toll and cling to me even during the times I believe I am mostly happy.

I want to be a writer.  I need to be writer.  I know I've hit some dark depths when I feel compelled to shut down the blog, cancel all my contracts, and declare for myself a life as a full-time stay-at-home dad.  I can make grilled cheese sandwiches and spaghetti every night for dinner.  It would be wondrous.  Except it wouldn't.  When I ground myself back in reality, I am reminded writing is what I must do.  Things would get a whole lot worse if I disconnected myself permanently from that love.

This week I decided it was time to really focus on what exactly I want out of my writing career.  To look at what are the things I need to do now.  What are the things that can either drift off into the abyss or just be put on the "things to be done in the future but definitely not now" list.  It was time to do some serious trimming and really organize what my current writing career should look like.

There is one thing I've learned about Writer Christopher.  I tend to grab my sling and three pebbles, and then venture off to slay the lion, bear, and giant at the same time.  I plan to celebrate those victories by pulling a sword out of a stone, taming a unicorn, and building a cathedral.  I'm over-ambitious.  I forget to take small bites and just start shoving the metaphorical food into my mouth as if it is a Chubby Bunny contest.

My biggest dream for my writing career is to write books and novels.  Right below that is to create collections of short stories, because the challenge of that art form is appealing to me.  The major thing about all those things is that rarely is there any immediate promise of compensation for those works.  You have to do all the writing for free, and then hope you can sell it to a publisher willing to part with enough cash to justify the endeavor.  As an unknown in the field, the first few offers will likely be quite defeating, and not be enough to be able to make book writing a full-time career.  There are always exceptions, but one is foolish to plan a career around rarities.

I am in a spot where I then need to do other writings to actually pay the bills.  Luckily, many of those other forms of writing are also part of my dream or are things that I've learned to really enjoy.  Ghostwriting for corporations pays really well, and it is a challenge that I've become quite fond.  I also really enjoy writing for magazines and papers, and it is something that I'd likely want to do even if I was able to make a full-time living from novels or books.

I've also started dabbling in other work that isn't directly paying at the moment, but is being used for that marketing buzzword "branding" but also hopefully, leading to some major projects that will create real, live money that I can hold onto and roll all over.  This is stuff like my opinion pieces on my blog (which some I have sold for real rolling-all-over money and others that led to jobs that also paid with things that keep the electric company happy) and my Breakdown podcasts with Scott.  The podcasts still actually involve quite a bit of writing, but are also exciting because it challenges me in a new medium.

The latest thing I've been eyeing is entrance into the Online Film Critic's Society.  It had the perk of letting me be a certified film critic, even though the fact I'm paid for many of my film reviews would seem to hint that I already am one.  It would also hopefully open the doors to allowing me to get into fun things like critic screenings and maybe even lead to opportunities to write for sites I've wanted to see my little name on.  In order to apply there is actually a large amount of professionally written reviews that need to be in my portfolio.  A number that I am short at this point, but that number has been the motivation to watch and review far more movies.  Yep, it can be a tough life sometimes.

While I started making that one of my major goals for the next several months, I started getting into "forgetting to bite and just stuffing the whole sandwich in my mouth" mode, so I can't do any chewing.  I've already confessed that I am far too ambitious with the writing projects I take, but here is where I attempt to fix that.  But first, the culprit must be called out.

I started thinking it would be rather dandy to get into the Online TV Critics Society as well, because my great Uncle Zeb always said two internet societies are more than one.  So, I decided that I would need to start writing reviews for various TV shows.  The plan would be to post several TV reviews and film reviews up on this blog.  Or at least, post the ones that I wasn't contracted to write for other sites.  As you know, I have written TV reviews for BuddyTV and I post some film reviews for Collective Publishing.

Now, this would be all fine and dandy if all I wanted this blog to be was a TV and film review site.  It would be even finer and dandier if I had monetized this blog.  It would be the dandiest and finest if I didn't have any aspirations besides being a critic.  If you've been reading this almost a small book (possibly giant tome once completed) essay then you'd know that critic isn't the only kind of writer I want to be.

In my little head it made a whole lot of sense to write close to 5 full-length film reviews and 15 TV show reviews on a weekly basis, while also making sure I write posts on this blog about other things too on a daily basis.  On top of blog related things, I'd still have my ghostwriting and my magazine writing and my Collective Publishing writing and essentially, all the writing that gives me that much sought after real-live-roll-all-over money.  I'm still leaving out my major dream of writing a book and novel and short stories that also tends to take up a lot of time.  Don't forget I'm looking after Everett from about 8am to close to 5pm every weekday and some days it is longer than that.  At some point, I think Emily wants us to have a thing called a relationship.

Hmmm. . . how did I ever get burned out and suffer from anxiety?  What could it possibly be that made me hide away from the blog for a few weeks?  Maybe we'll never figure it out.

In order to be a successful writer, you really do need to be prolific.  The goal should probably be to write close to at least 3000 sellable words a day if you have any shot of making a living.  Unless you live the world of Castle or Sex and the City where writing seems optional when making a living as a writer.  My world seems different, and so write is what I must do.  I must do heaps of it.
 
But the thing is I need to actually be alive and functional to do that writing.  Having many projects is pointless if I can't accomplish most of them.

So, I am now making a major alteration to my current writing plan.  The only formal reviews at this point that I plan publishing to this blog will be on motion pictures.  I have the podcast with Scott where we review at least 4 films a week already, and film is my favourite entertainment medium, so it makes sense to write reviews of all the films I watch.  Plus I still have the film website that I am targeting to have up in a year or so, and reviews will be a major part of that.  I also find that a good film review is much more than just an analysis of a movie, but rather an opening of the reviewer's soul and an exploration into themes about social issues, philosophy, politics, and life.  I can tackle many of the things I want to discuss with a really strong review about a film that has greatly impacted me.

This means at this point I don't plan to write regular TV reviews anymore.  Now, obviously I will write a regular TV review or do a book review (I didn't mention my plan to do those too, did I?), if a site offers to pay well for it.  I have connections with several editors that will likely commission me to do exactly that, but at this point I don't plan to aim to do them for the blog anymore.

Now, I'll likely still be watching some TV.  I definitely plan to be reading much more in the coming months.  There are times that a show or book is going to trigger thoughts and strong feelings in me.  If that occurs, then I'll definitely share my thoughts about it on the blog.  I'm just relieving myself of the responsibility of churning out regular formal reviews for those mediums.  It will have the added perk of me actually being able to consume both for pleasure rather than in a critical way.  It is quite a relief.

I will be writing some opinion pieces of various TV shows still for BuddyTV.  I may actually have some other stuff lined up in regards to both TV and books for some other sites.  But all that stuff will be paid.  If I find the TV stuff ends up being far more popular than film then I may have to rethink my plans.  For now, I'm going to be more straight film critic than guy who writes reviews for everything.  Though I may possibly opt to review one or two shows in the future (The Americans being the one that I'm contemplating). 

This now frees me up again to be a writer rather than just a reviewer.  I'll be splitting my film reviews between this blog, Collective Publishing, and likely one other site to be named later.  This allows me to go back to making this a place where I discuss writing, my family, throw in some creative pieces, rants about politics, and essentially make it a smorgasbord for my thoughts.  I prefer it that way, because I never wanted this place to become overly structured.  I have paid work for that.  My hope is that I can avoid monetizing this site, and instead eventually launch another site where I'd be making the cash to dump on the bed and practice my somersaults on (what can I say, Indecent Proposal has really stuck with me).  

The elimination of one regular form of writing has hopefully taken out some stress I've been feeling about my other paid work.  I now plan to focus far more on getting more of my work into magazines and major websites.  It also will afford me a chance to start working more on those books and stories I keep alluding to but never showing anybody.

The big thing is that I hope this allows me to fire one fierce shot at those hooligans: anxiety, self-doubt, and emotional instability.  It is time I stop being blamed for all the crumbs they've been leaving under the sofa pillows.  Plus they just don't make writing all that fun.

Writing is supposed to be fun.  Or otherwise, my chosen career would have circus clown or Jedi.  But I am destined to be a writer and storyteller.  Just not one who tries to write 34 hours' worth of work in a 24 hour day where some claim I should also sleep and do non-writing things.

This is my new writing strategy.  Hopefully, this opening up of my current emotional inner battle has been a help to other young writers.  If it wasn't, you likely quit reading this after the first time I talked about steamrolling money.

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