A moment in the sunshine

A couple weeks ago, one of my pitches for a travel story was accepted. I’ve been blogging for a very long time, probably about 13 years, maybe longer, so I am no stranger to a first person narrative, but this felt a little bit different. This was no slap-dash rambling tale of something that happened, this was a STORY, this was something someone might actually pay me for! In some ways it felt like that hypothetical stone that smart asses with at least one college level philosophy course bring up. The one that God creates, and just might be so heavy He cannot lift it.

So, I started off with a draft and realized at about 1200 words that I could write a lot more than the 1000 word limit I was given, especially considering I hadn’t even hit the parts that I had said I was going to write about in the pitch. I took some inspiration from the 2018 Years Best in Travel Writing anthology, which were very much like the blogs I’ve been writing for many years. Incorporate the personal with the spectacular, thread them together and allow the setting to become a character in the story.

I pored over the story, writing out the narrative, filling it full of imagery and character and then ruthlessly killing my darlings, carving it down over 700 words until I hit my word count. Ish. I thought of the Hemingway documentary I had watched the week before, and how he urged writers to just begin by writing one perfect sentence. Then following that one with another perfect sentence. This meticulous attention to detail borders on the obsessive. It is a rock it’s Creator never judges the weight of properly in the beginning. That bitch is heavy.

After a few days of this, I submitted the story. I’m still waiting to hear back. I like what I turned in, but I did have my doubts. Part of writing is familiar to anyone who has been in an unhealthy relationship. You have to anticipate what your editor might want, without actually knowing. I guess the best approach to this is to submit your best writing, and if they don’t like it, you can submit it someplace else. Otherwise, it’s just mindreading (which is impossible) and dumb luck (which is more likley). Hard work, editing, and maybe just a modicum of belief in yourself will payoff if you keep at it. That’s what I’m going with anyway. Otherwise, you have about as much luck selling a story as you do hitting a winning scratch ticket.

My doubts stemmed from the fact that the anthology I was reading was extrapolated from magazines such as Esquire, New York Magazine, the Atlantic, and some others. Had I completely misread the room and put this personal narrative out there when really they might have wanted some kind of list of “Best places to eat dungeoness crab on the Oregon coast”? So, yes, of course there are doubts.

Just as a parent has doubts that first time they let their kid walk to school on their own. The doubts that you get when you set foot on an airplane that is about to fly close to the speed of sound halfway around the world. The doubt you get when you give that person you like your phone number. And with those doubts comes a feeling of exhiliration too. The possibilities that come, all of which are good, which are more likely to come true than any of the negative shit you’ve been cooking up in your head.

That kid will make it to school, and make the trip about a thousand more times. And they will learn to drive, and read train timetables, and take buses in other countries, and be self-reliant when the chips are down. That flight you were nervous about taking will open your eyes to new wonders and experiences that nothing can take away from you. The person you like calls you and you laugh and chat and enjoy each other’s company, gradually filling in the blanks of each other’s Mysteries until you chide yourself for ever being nervous about giving them your number in the first place. You wouldn’t know what to do without them.

And maybe that story gets published and it takes a bunch of readers along with you. Because that is the entire point. Like anything worth doing though, it takes time and work and overcoming some serious doubt.

After all, most Creatives are like this because we’d had our share of damage in life and use our talents to try to make sense of this universal brokeness, this imbalance of emotions and personalities and conflict we find ourselves examining every day. Otherwise, we would do something sane like working with numbers, which never lie. So of course we will have some doubts. We will have to overcome our own self-doubts, fight our own demons, and maybe get to some point where we can have that moment in the sunshine where we feel the warmth on our faces and say “I like this feeling.”

Just a little bit of that is truly addictive.

It’s no wonder we get so fearful of the next chance, which could be a total failure. But what if it isn’t? What if it’s another day with the sun on our face? And like Hemingway’s perfect sentence, we just follow up with another one.

Impostor!

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.

Impostor Syndrome and Taxes

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is when you tell people you are a writer.  In many ways, you wind up needing to convince yourself as much as you do someone else that this is what you do.  Do I support myself entirely with writing?  No.  Is the stuff that I write 100% creative fiction?  No.  But I am also an author.  (Of one completed book.  Which I published myself.  When it comes to impostorship, that is some shaky ground sometimes).

I write a travel blog and I have had some recent success in travel writing, which has been outstanding.  I have been featured in a university newspaper about these efforts, which in some ways almost makes impostor syndrome worse.  How am I of all people worthy of a newspaper article?

I have been writing blogs for probably around 12 years. Maybe longer.  One of my first forays into blogging was when I won $10 for Fantasy Magazine’s “Blog for a Beer” post. That was back when the new Millennium was still in its single digits.  I had been a published writer before that (and since) with short stories.  My first being in 1996, with my university’s fiction magazine, “The Crucible.”  What an odd experience that was. Cheese and refreshments with a “publication party” of about six people.  The parties got a little bit better during the next couple years, and the next time they accepted a story, I won Best in Fiction.

I can hardly read that story now.  Boy was it rough.

Over the years, I have published short stories, newspaper articles, articles for online magazines, and one novel. Very few of those have earned me much of a paycheck. I have also written so much copy for companies over the years that I can’t even remember how much there has been. Everything from fake reviews for products on Amazon to travel guides for places I have never visited. I was also an editor for my university’s Academic Catalog for about three years.  That was actually a lot of fun, but that wasn’t writing, that was just part of the day job where I got to fiddle with words.

So, last night, I was doing taxes and I had a neat reminder of my clout as a writer.  I got to add my sales for my second job of writing content for company websites as income.  I always used to hear that if you can pay bills or a large chunk of your rent with writing, then you are a writer.

So, I guess it’s official!

Weird that it took that to knock out my impostor syndrome. Hahaha!