This sucks, and it’s probably more rambling than anything else, but I don’t feel quite like tossing it in the trash bin, so here it is.
Your Reason Doesn’t Matter
It took a long time for me to remember my original endeavors in writing. A friend of mine, whom I hadn’t seen in years, told me a story about myself one cold night last winter. He said something about the influence I had on his life, and that I used to help him with his homework. He talked about my attitude toward projects in an English class we had together. He brought long forgotten memories of movie-making plans back from the darkest recesses of my mind, where they had remained unprovoked since college.
I remembered starting several writing projects, failing after a few chapters, and moving on with the next passing fancy. As I’ve pondered this lost history in my own head over several moons, I started to recall more. I’ve been telling stories nearly as long as I’ve been alive, badly. From some little stapled books drawn in crayon during my earliest memories to attempts at video game plots, to more than ten manuscripts that ended abruptly after the opening chapters. I even finished one little gem on physics in college. I had a finished or almost finished book about religion after graduation, etc.
That friend, whom I only remembered as a drinking buddy, stirred up a long history of what I now pursue with fiery passion. But the cause of that passion remains elusive to me. Let me serve then as an example that you don’t need to figure out why you write, or make music, or sing, or sculpt, or paint. You need only continue doing the thing that you love so much, and give it time to grow.
I do get out. Probably too much in recent months. But where I used to carry the hope of finding female companionship or a solid friend, I now go out for “human interaction” and to be part of the group. I don’t take it super serious, even though if one of my local friends called me at this instant needing a ride somewhere, I’d likely not hesitate to assist them. I offer jumper cables and time to total strangers, and one night even let a worker use my tools to finish a job he was doing while I was blowing off steam. And I’ll bet that most of my friends would likely also jump to help me if I were in a pickle. That’s what friends are.
But I do blow them off from time to time when it comes to the usual “hanging out,” especially as the night grows longer. I have things to do, I have work to finish, and the only way it will get done is if I hold that time for it sacred, and commit to my work.
Whether conquering my bills by grabbing at every brass ring presenting itself until I had more money than I really needed, or chasing after love or lust, or living out of my truck for two years, or my most recent insidious behavior of taking on a part-time job for minimum wage, I’m always seeking something else. My public side may be in alignment with whoever my piers are at any particular moment, but my passion still seeds itself in my work.
Therefore I play the game, whichever game I find myself in. The oilfield allowed me to write in short spurts of a few minutes throughout the day. My current job caps my time such that I need to schedule certain windows for writing. Even when freelancing was my only income, I would schedule my “job” time and my “art” time accordingly.
Since 2015, I’ve always had a writing time, and goals set every day. I have boxes that need to be checked off, often more than I can possibly achieve in a day, and I attack them with the same attitude that I would a normal job. I can remember several counts where something related to my art had me blurting out, “this <insert project segment here> is going to fucking kill me.”
Some examples? Some glitch with Amazon driving me nuts because of a new delay. The coloring on the cover of Stone’s Shadow causing problems for the printer because of the required ink levels. Cursing that some API wasn’t accomplishing what I needed it to. The sequel to Incorporated getting shelved again because I don’t believe the story is ready yet.
These little moments of frustration are no different than an argument with a company man or directional driller on a rig, no less annoying than a pissy customer at a shoe store, and just as distracting as someone knocking over a carefully built card castle. It’s called life. When your art becomes your life, it carries with it all the ups and downs of any other life.
I’m not the best speller in the world. I don’t know all of the grammar rules, and I’ll never memorize the Chicago Manual of Style. In fact, that’s why I have a copy, so I don’t need to remember. But there are other aspects of study to which I commit myself.
For a storyteller who wishes to someday leave a lasting mark on the world of literature, one must forgo literature itself to study the essence of the human condition. A master of words must study the history of the written word and learn what trends have evolved as a consequence of the medium. (Stone’s Shadow was originally supposed to be a very different type of story, but I couldn’t get written words to convey the story I wanted to tell originally)
I now study things that I would have laughed off in school. I search for the most basic and timeless aspects of the human condition. In a way, building my house is part of that quest. My current job looks at another part of it. Reading translations of 8th century alchemy books speaks volumes as well. Through my research, I’ve seen similar patterns in humans over the course of centuries, at least as the information is delivered to me, and I attach myself to finding those same patterns even in modern day life.
In short, I’ve become a student of the human condition. Every story has a main character, and the most timeless stories are the ones which strike closest to those fundamental conditions. As you dig into different cultures, time frames, and living conditions, you find the same stories over and over. The same wit, the same malice, portrayed in varying forms but still rooted in some veiled root form.
When I study my craft, it isn’t necessarily how to best use a comma, but how to best tell a story. To either end, as a writer you will never be a true master of either trade, but continued study is essential, and experience is priceless.
I devote myself to a single metric. Words on a page. This isn’t a special skill or a fascination. Even as I write this post after 8 hours of work, 4 hours of driving, and an hour attending a meet-and-greet for NaNoWriMo, there’s no choice for me but to reflect on what I’ve accomplished by opening my laptop tonight.
I could’ve gone to the bar with friends. I could have gone to sleep, as I must work on the house again tomorrow. I could’ve gone straight to social media and frittered away my remaining hours in this day poring over analytics and tinkering with marketing stuff.
My process is words on a page. I chose to open a blank document and write. Daily writing to me is the long game. The more words I write, the better I become at conveying the things I want to say. The better I align myself with another part of my craft. The battle. The process.
This war must be waged every single day. For me, I wake up in the morning knowing that I need to write, to make posts, to go through the slush-pile of boring tasks related to my writing, to make phone calls, to answer emails, etc. This work must be done, rain or shine, whether I feel like it or not. It’s no different than a job. If a person can carry their ass to work everyday, there’s no reason they wouldn’t be able to give that same conviction to something they love doing.
I care about my writing more than any other job or hobby at this point, and the proof is in the fact that I apply myself to it.
Write your draft, or your 50,000 words, or just write everyday and see where you end up. Finishing NaNo isn’t going to win you a writing career. In my opinion the most important reason for doing it has little to do with the word count. It has to do with driving your dedication and your love of writing in a small sample of what it takes to be a writer:
Sticking with something for thirty days, through one major holiday, is enough to show you what you’re made of. Dedication is a daily battle. You don’t wake up one day, suddenly a brilliant copywriter who can spin thousands of words without batting an eyelash. It’s a grindstone, you’re the miller, and people need flour. You have to run that that wheel every day. It’s a creative job, but it’s still a job.
Mock me if you like. Say that you’ll wait for inspiration to strike, the gods to deliver the perfect story to you in your dreams, or whatever other cliché you choose if you are the sort that believes dabblers “make it” in writing. That’s fine. I have thick enough skin to absorb some criticism. In fact, I have to, but that’s another story. But…I believe that any artistic or entrepreneurial pursuit encompasses this same kind of work ethic. That of the laborer, the peasant, the shit-kicking serf.
You get up everyday, brace for what’s to come, and do they work. Writing requires the same dedication as scrubbing the deck of an eighteenth-century sailing vessel. When you wake up tomorrow, you will still have a ton to do, but you take pride in those moments when everything is ship-shape because of your toil and effort. The only difference is whether you are passionate enough to put in that work for your passion, even if it never makes you any money.