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.

Distractifications

Last night when I went to bed, I had big plans for today. I was going to wake up early, sit down and really just go to town with writing. I should have known this morning at 8:40 when I woke up that all those plans were going to get blown to hell. I’m still working up to my routine. Yesterday, I felt that push of Resistance. I saw that long corridor of fear and that Sissiphysian push uphill with my rock, that I chose to see it as. Instead of seeing it as the freedom to do what I wanted to do. I wonder if this is what keeps stray dogs wandering around neighborhoods where they have been chained too long.

I forced my hand to make the words happen and it worked. It always feels good to write. Every chance I get to set down and snatch the words out of the aether and put them on the page feels good. What doesn’t feel good is sitting on my ass doing data entry. Listening to coworkers talk about ham or taffy for hours, or be regaled by the tales of recent surgeries or the medicines they are taking for something as stupid as being overweight.

This morning is a moment of resistance. The Newtonian law of an object at rest remaining at rest applies to the Creative mind as well. The unbalanced force is when we will ourselves to put our butts in the chair, pick up that artist’s pencil, start mixing paint, or turning off social media and turning on our minds.

But wait. There might just be that one friend on Facebook who says something witty, or maybe I can visit with someone to become motivated? Or maybe this book will write itself and I just don’t wannnnnaaaaa!!!!

These are all just ways to continually distract yourself. Binge-watching a series on Netflix, arguing with someone about politics/pandemics/Star Wars. I understand that I need to build a resume, that I need to build my website again–after losing a year’s worth of posts. I need to keep my options open for freelance work and have to check Indeed and LinkedIn and other sites for this. And I should set up a Fiverr account too to try to bring in more income.

But what I have had the opportunity to do for several weeks now, but haven’t because of distractions is work on the book. First it was the pandemic, then the layoff, then the breakup, then the…damn, I’ve run out of distractions…how do I create more? Why not work on the book? I can do that. I can do all the rest and still have time. Once you remove the time you piss away on social media and driving around to run errands, you free up a lot of time. Even the words I’m writing right now are a way to distract myself. So, why?

Because I’m afraid of that book. It’s one thing to write a paid blog post about why you should shop at a certain hardware store, or the dangers of toxic mold, but when that writing gets bought, you feel good. You get to put a little away in savings. You get to pay a bill. When they don’t sell, you shrug and just figure that was a small chunk of your time that didn’t pan out. When you spend YEARS writing a book, and people hate it, or worse yet, people buy it and never read it. Well, you wonder why you spent all that time writing it in the first place. You have made more money writing about rain gutters or dental implants.

There are worlds out there your mind is creating and it’s up to your butt (in that chair), your fingers (on those keys), and your caffeine tolerance (how much until my heart actually explodes?) to get those stories out.

You risk it all when you tell people your dreams.

But when those dreams don’t get to be born, they die inside of you. When they are on the page, they flirt with immortality.

Time to stop letting myself be distracted. Today, I get to do something about it.

Taking the wind out of your sails

Abuse

Anyone familiar with an unhealthy/abusive relationship will notice these indications.  Walking on eggshells, not being able to do anything right, rewards/gifts after an attack, and that feeling when you aren’t in “trouble” that things are okay and manageable just because nobody is yelling.  You go through that yo-yo feeling that just a few days before was just wanting to hit the ground running and never looking back to “I guess this isn’t so bad.”

Here’s the thing.  If you were married to or dating someone who made you feel this way, your therapist would tell you to run like hell.  So would your mom, your best friend, your pastor, your second grade teacher, and anyone else who gave a damn about you.  But it isn’t them.  It’s your job.  Or more specifically, your supervisor.  I have heard this so many times.  And we even raise our children to have good boundaries with family and relationships–or try to anyway–but when it comes to an employer, it seems like those rules don’t apply.

You can’t confide in your coworkers either, because everything you say will just get funneled back to those who already hate you and are making your life hell.

Stress

It’s perfectly natural to endure a lot of mental abuse for a paycheck; at least that’s what we are taught.  To have little to no boundaries or standards as long as someone is giving you money.  This is infuriating.  But think of it this way.  In the US, we spend around 1/3 of our adult lives sleeping, and 1/3 working.  In many cases our family, our leisure time, and the moments that keep us sane every day are not really the focus.  We work to live.  We live to work.  Or at least we are expected to.

We never really expect to be “happy.”  That’s what beer and vacations are for.

Stress is one of the biggest killers of people.  From the diabetes, heart disease, cortisol saturated moments of anxiety we experience everyday, to self medication such as drug abuse or alcoholism, to prescribed drug abuse so many of us experience all the time.  Sitting is the new smoking, I have heard.

So many health problems arise from sitting.  Prostate cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, blood clots, etc.  But the moment you stand up to take a walk, rather than sacrifice your 15 minute breaks for the privilege of sitting behind a desk all day, you get the side eye.  You get bad reviews for not being a team player.  You are accused of “not having enough to keep you busy” throughout the day.

The Status Quo

If you tell a lot of people about this, they will say, “Well, that’s just real life.  I don’t know what you are complaining about!”

Friday was awful.  In the middle of the day, I was left with a feeling that I could do no right at my job.  I’ve been working my ass off in an office that jabbering gossip and shopping online is the norm.  I don’t participate in this.  I put in my headphones to drown out the constant noise and interruptions.  I get my job done.  And in the last three years, I haven’t gotten a single good review.

By the time I get home, my creativity is diminished.  My levels of stress from anticipating conflict, from not playing “Mother May I?” for anything I do at the job, and then having any little detail saved up over the months to use against me in my review makes me second guess everything.  I’m walking on eggshells because nothing I say or do is ever right.  But more days than not, I’m the only one actually doing anything.  I have such anxiety over just standing up and taking a walk.  Getting up to take a piss.

Never good enough

I got written up for not taking on another task, even though I have already had my workload increased by taking on a co-worker’s tasks.  There will be no compensation, even though I’ve worked at this place for 13 years without a merit increase or any kind of promotion.  Even though the job is getting done at the utmost efficiency, it’s never good enough. And it’s not like they are giving out more time to do all of this stuff. Much less paying OT.

Jeez, I thought I already got divorced from a clinical narcissist, but here I am, all over again. And the result is that I feel like I am being dragged back to feeling like the man I was–the man I grew to hate–all those years ago.  The man who was congratulated for getting out.  But this same man can’t talk about this with most of his friends or family, because it’s the job, and this is how we are expected to be treated at work.

Haunted

I went home feeling like total shit.  Haunted by this feeling I couldn’t shake.  This anger that was coming back, which I had put behind me when I got a divorce.  But here it is again.  I thought, “I need to do something better. Because this place is killing me.”

But, as with any codependent/abusive relationship, I am reminded that I’m not good enough to deserve any better.  Even the other day, when my travel-blog, and my story was featured on the campus newspaper, someone in the office said, “Why are you in the paper?” as though my accomplishments, compared to theirs weren’t notable.

So, all weekend I thought.  And those thoughts turned to plans.  And those plans once again became motivation.

Opportunity

Mike Rowe made a video.  It was a speech for a college which said Don’t Follow Your Dreams; Follow Opportunity.  It’s a call to young people who might need to hear a differing viewpoint about life.  About how you might have a dream, but without any aptitude or talent for it, it might not be your gig.  He is a proponent of not necessarily following the higher ed/college path to success, because let’s face it; any of us who still believe that probably either work in higher ed and rely on that lie so that new suckers who are born every minute take out massive amounts of student loans.  Or they think the stork brings babies to mommies and daddies.  College works for some, but not all.  The trades work for some and not all as well.  But after over 20 years in the workforce, I can safely say that college has not really prepared me for much.

Other than there are a lot of people in colleges who think their degree means they are better people or harder workers than “less educated” people.  There is a lot of entitlement here.  And a lot of arrogance.

I have a knack for putting words together and conveying ideas to other people.  Sometimes, this talent is a curse, to use the cliche.  To process thoughts, I write about them.  I didn’t learn this in college.  I used it to get through college.  And once I got out, I started off exactly where I would have without a four year degree, other than being able to say I have a BA.

You’re Fired (Up!)

This weekend, I got fired up about writing again.  About querying magazines, about putting my plan to become a full-time writer into effect.  I am already very successful in writing copy for companies, but that only helps pay the bills.  I need to get to the next level.  I was ready.

Then, I got to work this morning and felt all the wind leave my sails.  The supervisor even gave me a nifty little Christmas present, because ’tis the season.  It reminded me of those years of abuse with the sweet talking after a completely dehumanizing fight, which was supposed to make everything okay.  It made me sick to my stomach.  But nobody was yelling, so maybe I can put up with this for a few more years.  Maybe I won’t get the bad review in a few months I completely expect to get.  Maybe one day, things will change and everything will be okay again?

This and every other lie I told myself when I was surviving a marriage that nearly killed me.

This weekend, it was just about all my wonderful girlfriend and I talked about.  She listened and we put our heads together on a lot of things.  I’m fired up again.  I have ideas.  I can query magazines.  I can ignore the contempt and push ahead, because the first step in keeping you down by any abuser is to let your crush yourself with your own doubt.

It’s hard to tell people about these things.  Even my closest friends and family.  “You can’t just quit! Ten years will fly past! What about your pension? What about money? Etc. etc.” It’s like they are saying “Your hobbies are cute and all, but don’t quit your day job.” As if I didn’t have enough of these doubts swirling around my head.

If this was a relationship, they would have offered to help me move. Instead, they are handing me a piece of steak and telling me “Sorry about that busted lip.  Maybe a plate fell out of the cabinet?”

I think of all the times I have seen people mourn the loss of a loved one.  They always talk about what they did for a living in some reverential way.  Even if that was what killed them.  How many funerals give praise to the thing that murdered their loved one, I wonder.

Just suppose I can make a go of this?  Suppose I can use my talents and follow opportunity, like Mike Rowe says?  Rather than just feel like this is all I deserve. My career is at a dead end.  Not only will I never advance further than where I am, I am in the process of being attacked on a daily basis, and my reputation in my job is being smeared.  Suppose I find validation through my own actions, rather than some sadistic person who wants to take the wind out of my sails?

Anything is possible.