Saturday, December 15, 2018
A couple of weeks ago, I had a really good day creatively. I woke up with one of those special mindsets of "Holy moly; what am I doing with my life—I have to get writing and make today count!" And I did: I sat down and wrote over 3,000 words of ATH that day.
That was the last time I got any done. The next morning I woke up thinking about how I could build on the previous day's success, and perhaps I would have, but I also had a big influx of freelance work, and I couldn't put it off any longer.
Since then, I've been either working, procrastinating from working, or decompressing from working. Hence, the past couple weeks have been a complete creative drought—which is an interesting topic, so I figured I'd write about it for this week's article.
"This Is What Success Looks Like"
One year ago, give or take a couple of days, I got the keys to my current apartment. It was the biggest stroke of luck I'd had all year. And though I wasn't out of the woods yet, it would prove to be a turning point.
Now, celebrating my anniversary here, I note that I've lived longer in this apartment than anywhere since I left the Mountain. If not outright stability, some amount of control has been restored to my life, making it possible for me to get to where I am now. In fact, by the end of this month, I will have made more money for December than I spent in rent, bills, and food.
Most of this money will be from my freelance work.
I was thinking about this the other day: Here I am, in an apartment I love, in a neighborhood I love, in a city I love. I get to live on my own, and have space and peace and privacy and freedom, which is so important to me. And I get to work from home. And, since quitting my job in October, I get to set my own schedule. And, this month at least, I'm making a profit doing it. To my recollection, this is the first time I've ever turned a profit as a freelancer while also paying all of my own living expenses and living in my own place. Ten years after founding Joshua Tree Studios, it's finally profitable.
I don't want to give the impression that this situation is mine for as long as I want it—as currently my freelancer eggs are proverbially (nearly) all in the same basket—but it's mine for the moment, and, asterisks be damned, it's a bit of a milestone to have my first-ever profitable month.
From a certain point of view, "This is what success looks like." I have my own place, my own space, work of my choosing, and enough income to end the month with more money than I had when I started.
That's what I was telling myself a few days ago, in the midst of metaphorically pulling my hair out.
It Ain't All Skittles and Unicorns
You see, this is also a rough time. I'm dealing with some pretty significant health problems. I'm dreadfully lonely, mostly invisible, and feeling as discouraged as ever about the possibility of finding my special someone. I don't actually have enough money to go out to eat the way I want to. And, despite quitting the 9-to-6, I've had very little time this month to actually work on my creative writing. The freelance workload has sapped up all my time.
Not entirely of its own accord. Granted, the work pays poorly—about what I was earning at the height of my time with the Content Mill (and with no adjustments for inflation, at that), though with occasional upside—and therefore it takes a lot of time to break even. However, I spend more time procrastinating from doing the work, and then decompressing after doing it, than I actually spend writing it. If my work time were limited to the time that I'm actually working, it would be very reasonable. But the knowledge that I have to divert away from my creative writing fills me with dread, hence huge amounts of procrastination. And, then, all together, the dread, procrastination, absence from my creative writing, and the actual freelance work itself are exhausting, leading me to take decompression time to rest afterward.
So far, I have tried to fight this procrastination time (I'm more okay with the decompression time), and failed.
The problem is that, until I can crack that procrastination nut, it basically takes full-time hours for me to break even—which means that if I'm going to actually be able to earn a living as a freelance writer, I have to not do my creative writing.
Which is very stressful.
In turn, this has sapped my creative energy in the past few weeks. I've had an especially hard time with nonfiction. The last couple Curious Tale Saturdays articles were excruciating to write, and neither of them ultimately got finished—which gave me the idea for this week's topic.
This Is Something Many People Experience
I am not alone in facing these kinds of problems. Many writers, and artists more generally, and members of the general public more generally still, struggle with these sorts of obstacles to their creative output. While it is refreshing to be candid about my struggles in recent weeks, I'm sure it will come as no surprise—not because of me and my story per se, but because this is a very common thread in the tortured tapestry of an artist's psyche and work.
I can't speak for others in my position, and I don't want to say anything anodyne and waste your time. So I guess I'll just say that I haven't cracked the code yet. I still, even now, after all these years, don't know how to build and operate the life I want to have. I still struggle with it every day. And that's what makes me feel so torn when I reflect on the fact that "this is what success looks like."
Can It Be Done?
This year was probably never going to be a year of artistic success. (The Year of 36 is banking pretty heavily on 2019 to be a workhorse in that department.) This year was more about putting out recovery.
But if I am going to succeed artistically, I need to actually be able to juggle my freelance work with my creative work.
In my last couple years on the Mountain, once it became clear I would be leaving—alone—I would sometimes find myself sometimes, during my drives into town for groceries or whatever, pondering "Where will I be a year from today?"
I didn't know the answer then, and I haven't known it at any time since. I don't know it today. Not really. Hopefully, I will still be in this apartment, because this is where I want to be for the time being (unless spectacular good fortune strikes, or perhaps something completely out of left field). And, as I mentioned, I have more control in my life now than I had during the Troubles. So the odds are better than in recent years that, yes, this is a stable enough situation that I'll still be here in a year.
But I don't know. I don't know if I'll be living here. Hell, I don't know if I'll be alive. This heart stuff is kind of ominous. And I don't know if I'll be more successful as a writer. I don't know that I'll ever find a structural framework to sustain that kind of success. If I could have even one 3,000-(manuscript-)word day each week, my creative production pace would be enough to finish at least one of my two forthcoming books on schedule. I don't need to reach very far to get there creatively. And in terms of the freelance stuff, I just need to sit down and do it, bright and early every week, and then I'll have so much more free time. Why is it such a struggle for me to do that?
For now, these struggles are all rather a morass. Which is a disappointing feeling to be feeling during the peak of the festive season, and thus what is supposed to be some of my very favorite weeks of the year. Instead, I continue to struggle.
Happy Winter from the Local Minimum!
By the time I speak with you next weekend, the Solstice will have passed and it will be Winter! I conclude this week by saying that my frustration these past couple weeks has been much less psychologically onerous than the massive black hole that I spent most of this year emerging from. Relative to the past four years, the last two weeks have been great. So, keep it in that proportion.
Anyhow, that's all for this week. Join me next week when—well, either I'll complete last week's article, or I'll do something themed about the holidays. Haven't decided yet!
Until then, may your Winter Solstice be delightful and celestial!
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!