Goals in Writing

I came across a quote today in a book I was reading for research. Travel writer Gabi Logan writes:

“If you set the wrong goals, you’ll end up with a “successful” life that you never really wanted in the first place.”

That really hit hard after this weekend. Recently, I’ve written that I have felt like creatively, my work process had ground to a halt. On the forum of the agency I write for, many of us support each other by speaking our minds and comisserating. Another writer had posted that she was experiencing much the same thing. The both of us were fighting hard just to complete the assignments we had accepted. With almost no motivation to push forward, we wondered what was wrong with us.

Last night, I hit my deadline by just minutes, having spent the Fourth of July Weekend catching up with those assignments that were like pulling teeth to complete. Five 2000 word pieces for law firms about personal injury suits. I wrote all five in three days. Procrastinating all the way to the last hours before they were due. If I really get moving, I can write one of those in about an hour and a half, but at that point, I just feel like my hands are lead and just pounding down on the keyboard to make my word counts. It’s all the same stuff I have written a dozen times or more.

The company just needs the words to trigger Google’s algorithm with keywords and SEO phrases to game the system. The bottom line is always “Contact us if you would like to learn more.” The worst part is they will just run what I have written through an SEO checker to see if it gets a high enough score to accept. Eliminate all passive verbs. Sprinkle in those key words. Add enough links to make Google track it all back to similar content. They don’t even really care what I wrote or how I turned a phrase, so long as it checks out with the robot.

When I read Gabi Logan’s quote, I thought about my weekend, and how I have been paying the bills with writing copy like this. I’m just a funnel for words that works marginally better than an AI content generator. Who knows, I might even be cheaper. I have gotten very good at what I do in writing content. I can do it quickly and other than a few typos, I generally nail the requirements in the first pass. I have about an 80% first draft success rate. But that resistance comes knocking.

It isn’t the same Resistance Steven Pressfield writes about in The War of Art, but something else. Something like what I felt when I was sitting in front of a clock at my desk at the University, literally watching the minutes of my life pass me by without feeling a sense of fulfillment. I know in the past, I have written that a bad day of writing still beats a good day of working. I have always been afraid that writing would turn into a “job” and I might start resenting it the way I did scheduling classes or answering phone calls.

The reason my University job sucked was I started with a skillset and I left with pretty much the same skillset. In twenty years, I learned almost nothing. Unlike people who enter a trade and become better welders or carpenters until they reach the point of being Masters of their trade, or someone who starts a business and comes out with enough expertise to become a mentor or a consultant for others, hardly anything changed as far as my abilities, other than I got quick enough and efficient enough to allow myself to have massive downtown and nearly terminal boredom.

When I write SEO, it feels a lot like that. When I write creatively, every time I learn how to tell a story better. I’m finding insight and showing it to others in a unique voice. I have meaning. My purpose is to connect with others. In the necessity of writing content for companies to conform to their algorithmic standards, I am just fueling a template. My fulfillment is getting enough money to put food in the fridge or gas in the tank.

The crazy thing is most of us are taught to believe it’s one or the other. We can work and pay the bills, or we can dream and starve. Many, many people actually get to do what they love and thrive financially. It is possible! Unfortunately for me, I’m seeing the fruits of my labor of setting the wrong goals and being “successful” at something I never really wanted.

I think that Resistance is telling me that it is time to take another step. I still need to push out of my comfort zone of surviving and continue to reach for thriving. That is my goal. I might be good enough to quickly write content for webpages and trick the AI, but I don’t like doing it. I get no meaning out of it. The reason is survival, but what is the intention? To continue to keep my head down and do the safe thing, I suppose.

It’s time to get some better intention. To thrive, doing what I have been working hard to do in order to hone my skills. A writer is like a tradesperson, only instead of wood or pipe or masonry, we work in words to construct thoughts to share with others.

I’ve had people tell me I am a great writer. There are days I lose that veneer of false modesty and push past the crippling doubt and ask myself if they are right. Maybe I could be but my reach hasn’t been exceeding my grasp. I’ve been going after low-hanging fruit when it comes to creativity. I’ve considered giving up.

I think now I need to set goals because I have a feeling the safe bet is reaching its conclusion. I think content writing will soon be replaced by AI entirely and I will find myself once again polishing brass on the Titanic, just as I did with higher ed. I wasn’t happy then. The only difference now is I’m using my skills, like a watchmaker using the tools of his trade to assemble IKEA furniture.

Time to set better goals.

Thank you for reading.

Garbage in, Garbage out

Gas prices are at an all time high, which will soon mean that food prices will follow close behind. Rents are already skyrocketing. Our leaders have ridden this flaming zeppelin to the ground, looking at nothing but their own pockets. Things aren’t looking so good right now.

So, I’ve been pretty much homestuck for the last couple weeks. I went on a hike the other day, but even the 20 mile round trip is a little bit of an ouch when it comes to leaving the house, because I know that is gas I should be keeping in the tank.

When you are home all the time, you tend to ruminate. You are in a closed room situation and the only thoughts coming into your head probably came from your head. Garbage in. Garbage out. It’s moments like this that we need to open a window in our psyches and let in some fresh air.

So, today, I took a leap of faith. I did something that scared the hell out of me. For the first time in a long while, I made plans. Now it is just a matter of following through with them. Being resourceful. And hitting that learning curve which looks a lot like a wall right now.

Once I activated that mode again, I felt like this is the kind of stuff I love to do. These sorts of challenges are right up my alley, rather than just sitting in the relative safety of my house. This small change has been what I’ve needed for a while. I see so many different things opening up for me too. New experiences. Feeding my curiosity. Doing and seeing some cool shit.

Sorta like the motto of Life Magazine from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

What is this project? More to come later.

I used to daydream more. Now I have something to daydream about. A probability instead of a possibility. It feels really good to daydream again.

The Work Ethic

Right now I work as an independent contractor. A freelance writer. My bread and butter comes from working through an agency. They get me assignments, I write content, I get paid. There are a couple catches to this, however. One of them is the amount of assignments are limited. Some weeks are flush with work, and other weeks aren’t. I do as many assignments as I can when they are available and I try not to burn out. I wrote a lot of articles on slip and fall injuries and car crashes in New York State last week. Since then it has been eerily quiet. The client still hasn’t reviewed what I wrote.

What is unsettling about it all is I’m not the only one experiencing this at the agency. Lots of other writers are scared that the work isn’t coming in like it used to. Considering what has been going on in our country right now, it’s not really a big surprise. The price of fuel reflects the economy in general. Inflation will soon hit our grocery stores like it is hitting the pumps. After all, for nearly $1,000 for a tank of diesel, the trucks have to deliver the stuff somehow. We are going to see things getting much worse very soon. The clients are scared right now of overextending themselves when it comes to marketing. They aren’t buying because they don’t know where their next paychecks are coming from either.

Right now, the Court system still considers me as making what I made when I worked at the university, even though that job has been gone for over two years. They consider that to be my potential, even though if by some miracle the university asked me to come back, it would be at at least $10k per year less. And I would have to figure out a place to live. Probably at around $2100 per month. As it was, I was barely scraping by.

My life is here now. The town where I live might not look like much to a judge or lawyers, (or my ex-wife), but this is what I am doing and where I am living. It’s a good town with clean air, nice summer weather, and just because we don’t live like suburbanites in this town, we have a sense of community those cities forgot about a long time ago. The economy is in shambles, and for someone who lost his job at the beginning of that, I seem to be the only person who understands the reality that my life as it was then, has ended. I am working to start over again at 46 years old. It used to be that people could do these things. But for the last two years, none of that has been considered. I will likely be told I am shirking my responsibilities, even though life changed beyond my control for the last two years. I’m doing everything I can to keep my head above water.

It isn’t easy. But I can say that I am supporting myself on being a professional writer. Which is what I went to college to do.

I found a comment by someone on my Facebook the other day. It was in response to feeling down on my writing ability a few years ago. “You’re an amazing writer!” she said. She read everything I ever posted here too. It’s hard to feel like anything about that statement is true when so many factors are against you. I have had people try to be encouraging when they tell me that I have written books. Most people who write never make it that far. But really, a lot of people do. There’s a lot of competition. Agents have wishlists for what they want too, and what I have written isn’t on any of them. The thing is they just don’t know what they need to publish. They are all taking the safe route. Eveyrone wants to take the safe route these days. If you step out of line, you are harsly reminded why you aren’t the kind of person who gets to do that sort of thing.

I’m flattered that someone thinks (thought) I am an amazing writer. They had only ever really read my blog posts. I’m not sure how she would have felt about my longer works. I’m sure she got sick of my writing towards the end of our acquaintence (I wrote enough letters at the end). But is being “amazing” enough? Even if I did take what they said at face value, why aren’t the agents replying? Why does it feel like you can pick up any book at a Barnes and Nobel and feel like it is garbage? Is what I am writing worse than garbage? And why aren’t the articles selling either?

When you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you feel like this a lot. You feel unappreciated sometimes. Futile. Fooling yourself. Why did someone say I was amazing? What did they really want? But every time you push yourself, you are surprised at how far you can go. For a moment you forget those doubts.

Last summer I sold an article to a magazine. An actual hold-in-your-hand glossy-covered magazine. That was an achievement not a lot of writers can make claim to. Especially nowadays. It’s hard to remember things like that when you are having clients micromanage your articles or the courts looking down their nose at you because you aren’t punching a clock anymore.

Am I an amazing writer? Most of the time I don’t feel like it. Most of the time I feel like an imposter. I mean, most people haven’t heard of me. And the rest of the time when something sells, I wonder why the hell someone bought it. Or even worse, I just wave it off like “of course they bought it.” When those sales become mundane and expected, it doesn’t feel great. It’s almost like what drug addicts say about forever chasing that first high. It will never be the same. I sold my first legit published story for $10. (I had been accepted at my college literary magazine and even won an award for writing, but this was different). It was after over a year of submitting stories to science fiction and fantasy magazines. I was so excited to sign that contract and send it back to the editor. He bought another three of my stories too over the years. He gave me a chance.

I never got critical reviews for any of them, and hell, I don’t even know if anyone read them (other than the editor). What I do regret is by the time the last one was accepted by that fantasy magazine, it felt like I was settling. What an awful feeling. The magazine that gave me a chance after fighting for a year to sell something…was my fallback. I got tired of the fallback after awhile, and when they finally folded, I didn’t even have that. The rest of the publications were filled with people who knew somebody who knew somebody. Having just that $10 was nice. At one point in my life, it was nice to just be published.

I guess I should remember to be humble. And even if I am an “amazing writer” I can be grateful for the work I get and remember how hard I had to fight to get where I am now. I don’t care if it’s not good enough for my detractors…it’s good enough for me. Because it’s everything I’ve ever wanted.

Everyday I put in the work. Every. Day.

It isn’t about talent as much as it is showing up and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zones. And some days knowing that you can give yourself a break. Come back with fresh batteries and hit it again.