Looking for a safer, less stressful occupation has occurred to me.
I almost quit last week.
Seriously. Much as I love to write, I almost threw in the towel and started checking the want ads again.
Since I’ve spent maybe 12 of the last 15 years working for myself, I’m probably terminally unemployable. I’m not known for being a pliable employee who will shut up and just follow orders. I’m not a good fit in job situations like that, and there are not many sheep-herding gigs in Charleston.
But there I was again, wondering what I was doing wasting my life with this writing thing. Isn’t it time I grew up, became a responsible contributing member of society and all that malarkey?
I’ll admit, I’m subject to these mood swings. This week everything’s aces, next week it’s a black hole. That’s just part of the package I tote with me. Yeah, I know there’s medication for people like me, but that’s not the real issue here.
I’ve mentioned before that this creativity thing is a tough business. You’re more subject to what other people think than, say, someone who lives in a cubicle. As soon as you put your stuff out on the market, folks are going to judge it — and by implication, you.
Anyway, I had kind of a cold streak this past couple of weeks where my biggest client kept sending my work back for a rewrite. It’s all fixable, and I know in my heart that if I don’t get it right the first time I’ll nail it on the rewrite. That’s what my heart says, anyway. That’s also what my work habits and track record say.
But it’s my yakking brain that tells me different. It’ll even throw a little Aristotlean logic at me just to give it a sense of authority. The work stinks. I did the work. Ergo I stink.
I tell you, a guy can only take so much of this stuff. It’ll crack the shell of even a tougher-than-thou type such as myself.
Is there a cubicle I can hide in?
How ’bout those sheep?
(Note: That’s as far as I went on this post on Tuesday. I put this aside and picked it up Saturday. Note the timing here. While I usually don’t explain how I do stuff, it’s really part of the story. Pay attention.)
Strap on the helmet and ram something
That was last week. This week, unpredictably (or not), I’m back on a roll.
On Thursday, I stood up at my terminal and blasted out a whole bunch of copy. I didn’t count it, but my own best estimate based off previous and current word counts puts it at nearly 8,000 words. Totally amazed. That’s at one stretch, pulling myself away from the terminal every so often to untangle a fuzzy thought or test out some phrasing. But 8,000. That’s twice my previous record.
OK, so what happened here?
I could take the easy way out and say it’s the medication kicking in, or some really good espresso, or something like that. But it’s a crock. It’s just strapping on my helmet, ramming that brick wall and moving forward again.
The creative life is full of roadblocks. All look big from where I stand. All look like they’re built like brick outhouses, all with solid materials, good mortar, strands of razor wire on top. Many are tough enough for me to say, why don’t I just chuck it all and find something easier? Something like skydiving or defusing bombs for a living?
I like the way Steven Pressfield describes these roadblocks. He calls them “resistance,” and many of them come from outside. That would be the day job that gets in the way, the needy spouse who thinks you’ve spent enough time doing your thing.
But most of that resistance is from within. It’s those feelings of inadequacy. When you know you’re not good enough. When all your stuff comes back to you covered in red ink, and you take it all to heart. When you’d rather drink, do drugs, drive real fast, get into another weird relationship or watch soap operas all day instead of doing your work.
This resistance thing is pretty predictable, though. It always gets heavier when you near the finish line. It gets heavier when you’re about to hit a new level. When you think you’ve plateaued and resting on your laurels — or again, giving up the whole thing — feels like an option, there’s that next level right in front of you. Dare you go there?
But is it sustainable?
After that marathon, scary-productive writing session I began to feel it. My neck felt wrenched, and my back and shoulder felt like they were installed backwards. Despite the obvious physical discomfort, the mental surge continues. Today, I’m jamming along a mile a minute with this essay. Just an hour ago, with my writing group, we all wrote short essays off a pair of writing prompts. The group leader gave us all a couple of photos and told us to write something from that. Both of mine, even I thought they were pretty good.
Will this productive period last?
My history says no. Sheer logic says no; nothing like this is sustainable. My neck and shoulder and back all say it better not or they’ll haunt me.
So, the question: Is this sustainable?
The short, snappy (and true) answer is this: Who knows? Who cares?
While I’m there, I might as well enjoy it.
# # #