The Fuel That Fires My Writing

1.

I’ve been seeing a therapist since September. He’s been doing the difficult task of helping me break the habits of isolation that come from a lifetime of social phobia. He’s good at what he does. He often has concrete suggestions, both for social challenges I face every day at work, as well as unexpected stumbling blocks that crop up as I begin to get more engaged in my community. I could say a lot about this, and I guess I probably will in a future blog post. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the impact he’s had on this blog, and a conversation I had with him on Wednesday.

The biggest way my therapist helped with this blog is that, a month ago, on October 18, 2017, he suggested I begin writing again every day. It was a long overdue suggestion, and the next day I started writing the daily journal that turned into this blog. From the first day I wrote that journal, I knew I wanted to start this blog, but also knew there had to be a distinction between the journal and the blog. I knew there would be times when I needed to get something off my chest that might not be of interest to else. But I also believed that some of my private thoughts would be of value to other people, just as other people’s writings about self-improvement have been so valuable to me. Now that I’m entering into a phase of conscious self-improvement in so many ways, I find I have a lot to say. So I started this blog a couple of weeks after I started the journal.

2.

I’ve already written about the synergistic nature of some of the things I’ve been working on. I’ve written about how the desire to begin writing again has fueled my aim to complete a very-long-in-progress computer game, a video trailer for it, a bunch of paintings, and thorough cleaning of part of my house.

Now the synergy I see is this: in writing this blog, I get not just one thing, but two.

The first thing I’m getting is an opportunity to tell people about the countless ways in which I’ve been trying to improving myself over the past two or three months. It’s a story I want to share.

Meanwhile, as I’ve looked down the road to what my plans should be for the coming years, I’ve been thinking about the book I want to write, and I’ve started reading that today’s book publishers are hesitant to publish a book from an author who doesn’t have a blog or a social media presence. It’s not exactly an encouraging thing to hear, but on the other hand, I get it. Book publishers can only do so much when it comes to promoting an author. If, in getting the word out about a new author, they not only have to compete with a lot of other messages in our media-drenched landscape, but also have to do so without any Internet presence or helpful personal connections on the part of that author, that’s got be discouraging from their point of view.

And if it’s true that this blog might be of use to such a future publisher, I wanted to find out how. It’s lucky, therefore, that I was recently in contact with a book coach who was kind enough to recommend some links to get me pointed in the right direction, and one thing she recommended was the book Be the Gateway by Dan Blank. It’s not a book about marketing in any usual sense of the word. Instead, it encourages people who do creative work to engage more passionately with their work and the way it connects with their audience, and then share with that audience the process of creating that work. I found this to be good advice, and it encouraged me, because it’s what I want to do anyway with this blog.

Long story short, therefore, the second thing I may get from this blog is — well, I don’t know. Dan Blank says that if I am public, open, engaging in the way that I already want to share my story, then I’m going to get readers, and those readers will help when the time comes to publish a book. That’s a simplification, but I find it encouraging, so I’m going to go with it.

3.

These are the things I told to my therapist on Wednesday. He didn’t get it. He thought that, because I was thinking about positive long-term outcomes of way I want to share my story, therefore I’m going to do a bad job of sharing my story. I disagree with him, and I’ll tell him so soon.

And yet, on the other hand, I’ve made an observation that I can’t ignore. The observation is — well, let me explain.

I often spend more time listening to podcasts than I do reading. Up until a week ago I was listening to a podcast that really inspires me — it’s called The One You Feed, and it’s all about how you can improve the quality of your life by making the right choices on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis. I’ve been binge-listening through the back catalog, and it’s been fueling me as I work on getting back into the practice of writing, engaging with my community, and living better.

Then, for a few days, I started listening to Dan Blank’s podcast, Dabblers vs. Doers. I found it filled with a lot of valuable information, but I also found it a bit discouraging to be listening to authors who were way more active and successful than me. Even if the whole point of the episode was to take me through the process of how they got to be successful, the mere fact that the authors used a lot of publishing jargon to describe the process made me feel alienated.

During the days that followed, I didn’t get any writing done. Mostly I was just being lazy, but I suppose it’s possible that some of it is because I’d let my attention drift away from what I find inspiring and replenishing.

So my observation is, I need to keep myself fueled with things that fire my passion for my creative work. And it’s that that’s most important.

In fact, even if you looked at it from the narrowly interested perspective of the book publisher who might be interested in publishing my future book, even then those things that inspire me would still be what’s most important to that end.

And incidentally, none of that is remotely contradictory to Dan Blank’s book. On the contrary, I think he’d be agreeing with me. I’ll keep listening to his podcast and reading his book.

In the meantime, I’ll also keep listening to and reading things that fuel my creativity in a more direct way.

But most of all, I’ll stop being lazy and get back to writing.

Start Small, but Be Consistent

Now that I’m working to improve myself, I’m hearing from all kinds of sources that there is a method to achieving long-term goals. Start small, incredibly small, but be consistent.

For example, the idea goes, if your goal is to get into physical shape, going to the gym just five minutes a day can make a huge difference, not because you burn so many calories in those five minutes, but because of the invaluable habit it gradually starts to create.

And so, when my therapist suggested I start writing again every day, I immediately recognized that it was a good idea. In fact, it’s something I should have started a while ago. I’ve been doing it for three weeks now.

For the last three weeks, I’ve skipped writing only six times, so that’s a consistent five days a week. Not bad, I guess, but I’m going to try to get still more consistent.

It’s been easy because I’ve been giving myself permission to write just a little every day. Just five minutes is the rule, enough to produce one coherent paragraph, and then if I want to, I can either stop or keep going. And the writing doesn’t need to be good enough for publication, either in print or on the blog. That makes it easy.

There’s a problem, though. Now that I have a blog, I can already feel this changing. In addition to writing something, anything, every day, I now feel the need to come up with a blog post worth reading at least “often enough.” The problem is, my wife (a long-time blog reader) seems to think that the gold standard for “often enough” is once a day. And that pace could threaten to demolish the enjoyment I’ve gotten out of the comfortable pace of my daily writing.

One thing I’m not going to to is just let my “write whatever you want for five minutes or more every day” goal unintentionally morph into a goal of “always write a blog post every day” without my deciding that that is the best course of action. The former goal is therapeutic and meditative; the latter goal turns it into a challenge. And make no mistake, a challenge could be a good thing, especially if working on a blog were to be my main creative endeavor, but that is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a constant in my life that is easy to keep going while I work on my main creative endeavors. I want blogging to be easy, not a source of anxiety.

Something’s going to have to give. I need to scale down on the “blog post per day” idea, or widen the scope of the blog to make it easier for me to find things to share every day, or rethink my thoughts about “what is worth posting,” at least if those thoughts are wrong. Or . . . who knows. I’ll think about it.

I Decide My Best First Move Is to Pick Up Dust

[Historical note: this was first written as a journal entry on Sunday, 2017-10-22.]

I’ve decided to start writing again. There is a collection of short stories I’d like to finish — an ambitious collection that may end up being 500 pages long. But that’s a huge weight to lift, and I’m in no shape to lift it after a full ten years of no exercise.

So what creative work should I do next? Well, there is this blog. But I want this blog to become a constant, something I do every day, regardless of whatever my main creative effort is at any given time.

For my main creative effort, the likeliest candidate is a computer game. That’s right, a computer game, one that I began working on a full eleven years ago and nearly finished that year, until life got in the way and several years went by. It’s an ambitious game that I’m proud of, and since it’s so close to done, it makes sense for me to do that next.

In fact, it’s a game I worked on a bit last year. And when I was working on it, I had a thought. I couldn’t help thinking about how to grab people’s attention and attract them to the game. So I decided to create a movie-like trailer to promote the game, and this project soon took on a life of its own. Before long I had hired voice talent and learned how to use Adobe Premiere in order to do the necessary video editing. I got through about half the effort needed to release it, resulting in at best a very partial rough cut. But then I drifted away from it last spring, with the result that this trailer is now yet another unfinished project I intend to complete.

So before I work on my short story collection, I want to complete my computer game, and if I’m going to do that, I also want to complete a video trailer for it. Adding another layer, in order to complete the trailer as I intended, I’m going to need eight to twelve custom-painted illustrations.

And with that being the case, I’m now convinced I need to paint a dozen paintings, so that I can create a movie trailer, so that I can release a computer game, so that I can work on a collection of short stories. Does this plan sound a little — convoluted? Almost like a Rube Goldberg machine? Well, maybe. But right now, I can’t think of anything that makes more sense.

And yet it becomes even more convoluted. In order to complete the paintings for the video trailer, I recently decided it would help a lot for me to clear out an area in my house where I can do the painting. As I thought about how to do this, I thought about the empty spare bedroom of my house, and how I’ve been meaning to turn it into the office where I do my writing. If I did that, I could use essentially the entire basement as an art studio.

And so, before I knew it, I started dusting and sweeping the corners of my living room, so that the few remaining items from the spare bedroom could be put there, so that I could clean the spare bedroom, so that I could go to the hardware store to buy the lumber I need, so that I could cut the lumber, so that I could build my new office, so that I could move my computers upstairs, so that I could set up a place to paint downstairs, so that I could paint the paintings to put in my trailer to promote my the game that will prepare the way for my completing my short story collection.

And you know what? That doesn’t sound crazy to me at all. I’ve needed to clean my house for a long time now. I should feel lucky that it now seems like such a meaningful activity.

The Turning Back

[Historical note: this was first written as a journal entry 2017-10-19 and 10-20; rewritten to be the first entry in this blog on 2017-11-05]

Not sure where to begin, so just beginning.

I seem to recall reading a book about people who were comparatively indifferent to normal stimuli. For these people, good was no better than bad. Or maybe good was better, maybe they knew this on a cognitive level, but the difference felt so slight that no effort to achieve good ever seemed worth it. I thought I read an anecdote about such a person being slow to run from a burning building. They didn’t feel that running was so much better than staying put.

(I thought I read this in Peter Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, and that book does have a section on anhedonia, but nothing that quite matches this.)

When I read about such people, I didn’t think, “That’s me,” not exactly. But I could relate to them.

When I took a high school drawing class, we went outside to look for things to sketch. A lot of people were drawing trees and flowers, but I was drawing a crumpled Coke cup lying in the gutter. When I found out my perspective was different from other people’s, I was proud. Or glad, anyway. I didn’t want to be like everyone else. Why should I?

The one time I skipped high school, it was to drive to a library to finish a jazz arrangement I was working on. I was proud of how I spent my time that day. But I was also content to spend many another day playing computer games, some of which were immersive but ultimately sterile time-sinks such as Civilization II.

I did all these things without making distinctions. Why make distinctions? One thing was as good as another to me. Whatever could hold my attention, that was the thing I wanted to pursue.

I spent four and a half years getting a degree in creative writing, but then I spent the next eight and a half years drifting through a series of random jobs, all the while not writing. Why? Fair question. But at the time, apparently my question was, why not?

I then spent two and a half years studying to get a job in software development, but after I got the job, I found myself collapsing under the weight of things I thought I had buried, lowering my head to the floor, and developing a drinking problem that turned into a daily habit.

I’ve done all of these things. I’ve gone where the breeze blew me and called it my choice. And in the end, the destination was so painful that I had to reverse my course and turn back.

This is my turning back.