One of the hardest things I have encountered these days has been the shadow of impostor syndrome. I have mentioned it before, and it bears repeating. So I am repeating. Louder for the people in the back, as they say.
One of the luxuries of waking up every day and punching a clock is the process of showing up, doing a marginal amount of work, and eventually watching your bank account fill up with a direct deposit at the end of the month provides immediate validation that you are indeed being productive. Even though when I was working for the University, I could probably get an entire week’s worth of work done in the last three hours of any given Friday.
When you work for yourself, especially in a creative field such as writing, the goalposts are not so obvious. The actual writing might just be an hour or two, depending on what you are working on. The thought going into it, the observation, the grinding things around in your brain is neverending. The bummer is that you are not paid for all that work. You put words down on paper. The days go by and the paychecks don’t drop into your account. Transitioning from regular paychecks to something more intangiable is difficult, and sometimes you will really tear into yourself for not being as productive as you *should* be.
For me, reading is even difficult, because for so many years if I had time to sit down and read a book, that meant I was being lazy and needed a project around the house to occupy my time. Reading for research is difficult sometimes, and reading for pleasure is downright impossible. I just feel like I am being idle, and shirking my responsibilities. Hardly ever considering as a writer, I need to constantly hone my mind with an imput of good writing, as well as producing work.
I love that song by Arcade Fire called “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” especially for the lyrics “Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.” It really hits when you understand that beautiful things like music, art, writing, television shows, YouTube channels, movies…all come from people who work in their heads most of the time. Creative things that we all love and experience, that resonate with our souls, are rarely made in some drone-like fashion. They are created by people who stare into space for hours, beating themselves up sometimes, procrastinating, and finally pulling those things from the Aether for the rest of us.
Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock.
My son and mom and I went on an adventure last week, escaping Colorado just before the Snowpocalypse hit. We drove out to Washington to visit family and even made it all the way out to the Oregon Coast. Some might call it a “vacation” but when you are a writer, you are never really on vacation. It was a research trip. Sitting in a car for a little over a week took us through several different biomes: rainforests, rocky coastlines, mountains, plains, and deserts. We went from 8100ft above sea level to throwing clam shells for the dog to catch in the surf of the Pacific ocean.
Most people come home with their t-shirts and do their laundry to get the sand out of their socks. When I get home, it is my job to process everything that I have experienced, and hopefully try to sell these observations to someone. To convey the story in a way that an editor might take a chance on me to buy, or will at the very least entertain a reader, possibly resonate with them, and inspire them.
The second-guessing is hard because you never really know what will sell in a story until you write it. How will the way you string words together serve the story? That is the hard part. That is the part that leaves me frozen. The bit that tells me I’m fooling myself and I should just apply for another desk job. Am I the best writer? No. But I’m not half bad. And the stories choose me anyway, I don’t choose them. The least I can do is put the words down as they are whispered to me and hopefully I’ve done a decent job.
Money is a necessary evil, but it doesn’t always mean you are doing good work, or the work you need to be doing. Twenty years pushing paper from one side of my desk to the other is evidence of that.
Right now, my learning curve is very steep in learning how to market myself, promote my writing, and try to assure myself I’m not going to die by getting a steady paycheck somehow from all of this. It doesn’t happen over night, so it is best to be patient.
So if you are a creative and you need a reminder that what you are doing is important, please, keep going. Keep going.