The Business of Writing

Yeah, so the last blog post I did in these parts that wasn’t about Phish was over a year ago. Not that I’m complaining. I like writing about Phish and their music and if this is more Kaufmak’s Lazy Phish Blog, then so be it. Might be a little more accurate these days. Of course, then I want to write about other things.

More to the point, I want to write more, but that just is about impossible these days. There are a lot of reasons, family, job, social life, video games, television, simple exhaustion, you get the idea.

But, I don’t want to just write more, I want to write…for a living? Yeah, I’m really not sure how that works. A big change needs to occur, one that I’ve been slowly circling like the water going down the worst drain ever. That change is a one of identity. I need to see myself as a writer, at least as part of my identity. I just can’t seem to mentally pull that trigger.

It’s not like getting a Ph. D. Someone told me, now I’m a historian. All you fuckers need to call me doctor. Some people have told me a I’m a good writer (some have said I suck.) But writer validation doesn’t work that way, at least not for me. I’m so glad my writing gets out to others, even if the numbers are small. I’ve even won a couple of “posts of the month” deals at the other blog. But I haven’t been paid to be a writer. Production is great, but production for free just doesn’t work in my head.

This is my hang up, by the way. I’m not say if you write a blog and aren’t getting paid for it you’re not a writer. However you define your “writer-ness” is entirely up to you. I’ve got this annoying notion about pay and validation, not you, you’re a sane, rationale person. Good on you! You writer!

What’s more, I’m seriously stuck in two places. It seems like the people who strike out and make a go of it, get further opportunities, and get to make a living at this stuff seem to have three things in common. They write, or started to write, about one thing, did it well and did it frequently. I’m not sure if I’m 0-3 in that last sentence, but in the light of optimism, let’s say 0-2. Time just needs to happen, either make it or not. It’s that other part, that “one thing and stick to it” thing that just doesn’t work. But if I don’t do that, then I’m just some dude with a blog writing about stuff. Why read it? I mean, I’m a nice guy and all, but yeah, why else? What makes me so damn special?

It’s the one thing, that niche that I can’t seem to find. I like to write about certain things more than others, but I get bored or discouraged or busy. Sometimes all at once. These last couple of months, it’s been a shitty place to be.

Fear, Loathing, Donuts and Writing

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

dune

Even since I say Kyle MacLachlan over-act the above mantra, I’ve gone back to it when I ‘ve been afraid to do something.  As November draws to a close, I can safely say I will not accomplish either of my goals for the Novel-in-a-Month project.  As a matter of fact, I’ve done pretty much nothing.  I have some great justifications and excuses too; I had a couple of sick kids; I was sick for a couple of days; busy at work; busy trying to keep the house clean and picked up and the list could keep going.  All of it looks reasonable and all of it is…bullshit.

If you’ve been reading this blog or the other blog or if you know me, I’m a bit of a goal junkie or accomplishment junkie.  I love to have goals, plans, points on the horizon to look toward.  I completed a Ph. D., I’ve run two marathons (and counting) and I love to make lists and cross things out, sometimes a little too vigorously.  But then there are those things, those projects, challenges that seem too big, too daunting for me to conquer.  I thought by releasing to the twitterverse two of the most pressing ideas I would spur myself.  Public accountability and personal shaming sometimes have that effect on me.  Alas, not this time.  My two greatest fears, since I was kid really, were greater than my otherwise strong determination.

With both projects, both fears become intertwined, but I would say the idea of getting my dissertation ready for publication is rooted in a fear of rejection.  I know it’s weird, really at this point of my life I’ve been rejected loads of times; turned down for grad schools, turned down for jobs and the like.  This is different though.  This feels more personal.  I put a lot of work into the dissertation and while finishing was the goal and it felt good, this next step is daunting.  It means putting the work out there for everyone to see, or at least a much more objective and less vested editor.  It has become a judgment of my work’s overall worth.  It’s been two years since I finished and I’m still not ready for that sentence.

The other thing about the dissertation, that isn’t quite as fear based is I don’t see the overall worth of having it published.  The career path that usually needs such action is pretty much out of picture for me, partly because it is a dying profession and partly because I’ve come to find out I don’t want that particular career, at least not the way it is designed now.  So there is a little inertia mixed in, making a lovely malaise culminating in a general feeling of, “What’s the point?”  Not exactly the best place to be.

If you really want to see what keeps me up at night though, the monster under the bed, it is the other project I foolishly mentioned as part of my November goal.  I’ve had the idea for a screenplay, this particular idea no less, for at least eleven years.  I won’t go more into detail because I’m a bit of a superstitious monkey, but it isn’t the worst idea for a movie.  I’ve probably written the opening two scenes five different times…and no further.

It really is daunting, writing something from whole cloth.  All of my other writing, academic, blogs and the like are kind of like painting by numbers, or at least performing a set piece of music.  Hell, even the screenplay is historically based, so it isn’t too far outside of my comfort zone.  I just can’t push further ahead because I’m afraid, afraid of failing.  I’m not afraid of the end game, of sending it off to a studio and getting rejected.  Honestly, I know that is how it will end. No, with each passing month, year even, my great fear of not finishing this idea, of not being able to do it, bears down even harder.  It isn’t the failure of the outcome, it’s the fear of failure in the process, the work.  Simply put, it’s the idea I can’t do something that is doing it, a truly personal failure.

I get how irrational all of that reads, but it doesn’t make it go away.  Also, and this isn’t another excuse, but both projects, even if vastly different, are freakin’ hard! I’m just not that into a lot of hard work for very limited results.  If it comes down to satisfaction, I’m pretty satisfied with a hundred clicks on a blog post and a really good Civilization game.  And yet, both projects, and more if I’m being truly honest, still lord over me.  After playing Batman: Arkam Origins for an hour I feel like I just ate three donuts.  Then I reflect on what I might have done, then I go and eat three actual donuts, so the current system isn’t working so hot.

So what do I do?  I don’t know, maybe up the accountability factor? Post follow-up blogs on my progress? Make an Excel spreadsheet charting my progress? (don’t laugh, that worked for my comp exams and the dissertation.)  Will something like this help? Probably not.  Public shaming only gets me so far.  At some point, if I’m really being honest, I just need to work.