Why Artists Stop Arting and Where Blogs Go to Die

I want to talk about a phenomenon that every blog reader has likely experienced at least once during their time as a fan of the written, online word. That phenomenon is the sudden and unheralded disappearance of their favorite blog author.

I decided to peer into this epidemic after recognizing that it had happened to me, through the perspective of my own inactive blog. Three years. That’s how long it had been since my last post. This blog was once a forum for me to talk about my art, my dreams as well as featuring the work of other authors going through similar journeys.

Then I just…stopped.

The “poof, they’re gone”-ing of blog authors seems to be a fairly common internet practice. Blogger enters the scene with big promises to build a community around a particular topic and regale her/his readers with expertise, experience and a laugh or two along the way. Blogger does that for a while and then, like dust in the wind, blogger disappears as suddenly as they arrived, leaving subscribers and fans wondering what the heck happened. Is the blogger okay? Were they kidnapped? Did they forget how to write?

What happens next – often a year or more later – is a brief return and halfhearted apology from said author and promise to do better and write more – mostly made out of a sense of obligation to the audience they built more than any genuine belief that they actually will “do better.”

I almost made one of those today. I almost wrote up the whole, “Hey guys, I’m back! I’ll do better! I’ll write more! Let’s go right back to talking about the effects of adolescent pain and discovery on writing!”

That would be bullshit. It would feel true for a blink of a moment as that old enthusiasm came back, then I’d hit “publish” and immediately get swept up in the same Capital-S “Stuff” that pulled me away in the first place.

So instead of apologizing, I’m going to talk about creativity through the lens one kind of project – a blog – and discuss why those creative projects grind to a halt.

We all know the general answer to this. I’m not keeping anyone in suspense here. The one and only answer is simply: life. Life, great unpredictable bastard that it is, just gets in the way.

In my case it was a job; or rather a series of jobs. I was offered a place on a local volunteer arts council. It was a big deal for someone like me: a little artist with dreams of being big. I came in with every great aspiration there was to have. I wanted to meet established, successful artists and learn from them. I wanted to work with others to create events and public-facing art projects the whole town would remember. I wanted to be a local rock star.

During my term on the council, I did these things. I made friends with other artists doing big, “important” things. I helped put on workshops, performances and a massive art crawl where I managed three performance stages in one night and performed on two of them. I lived the dream for a while.

What I learned during this time was that once you’re on stage, it’s hard to get back off again.

The Arts Council led to invitations to other volunteer opportunities, readings at friends’ shows and planning for big, future arts initiatives. Networking led to a job opportunity with a government arts commission, where I booked, organized and helped facilitate even larger-scale arts projects.

All of this was beautiful, all of this was for one cause or another I felt passionate about. The problem was that I was doing this, being on stage and doing the rock star thing while also holding down a second, nearly full time job, trying to continue my work the local writing association, balancing friendships and relationships and…what was that other thing I was supposed to be doing, again?

Oh yeah. Writing. I’m a writer. Fuck, I nearly forgot about that.

In the midst of three years of Capital-S “Stuff” I had, in fact, continued to work on the third installment in the urban fantasy series this blog was created in part to promote. I wrote and submitted a few short stories. What I can’t say I did was maintain the passion and creative energy I had before. That third novel fell by the wayside as I finished the draft, said, “Meh, I don’t feel like putting in the work to polish this” and went right back to the daily grind. I stopped attending conventions. I stopped self-promoting. I stopped sharing my journey with my fans and friends.

Instead I allowed life to be one long procession of dates on a calendar. That thing I had to do on that day. In between “things” I was so exhausted that I barely wrote, I barely put in effort to keep up with friends and family outside of these art circles. I sacrificed my time with the Writers Association – a group of upstart authors I had once been passionate about – in order to fulfill a million other obligations for things that I discovered I found as draining as I did inspiring.

Why did I find them draining? I think it was at least partially because these causes – as cool and as necessary as they were – weren’t my own. When someone you respect hoists a banner and leads a march to war you want to follow them, but eventually that might lead you away from the smaller, more personal battles you need to fight. Neglect those personal battles and you’re still a soldier fighting a good cause – but one without the energy and attention that cause really deserves.

I became a solider marching to someone else’s drum, and the longer that went on the more I realized that I could no longer hear my own.

Is that the curse of an artist? To always have to strive alone or risk losing their personal inspiration in the midst of someone else’s? Or is that just a human problem – that we’re all selfish creatures that need a bit of “my way or the highway” in order to be truly fulfilled?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know what happened to me. I burned out. Excitement became anxiety. Joy became responsibility. Passion became abstract – as I understood why a project should happen but not why I personally wanted it to or why I should be the one making it happen.

So what did I want during this time in my life? I wanted to be left alone. I allowed myself to roll off the Arts Council without renewing my seat – and in the midst of a small event I was planning, no less. When my one-year contract with my commission job expired I told my employers – who had been great to me – that I did not want to renew the position. In an attempt to get off the stage, I bolted out the back door. I pulled away from just about every one and every connection I had made during those past years in desperation to find myself and my own passion again.

I wish I could say that I immediately found it. I tried. I underwent “The Great Hermitude” and moved to a house just outside of town, further from the perceived stress. The stress followed anyway as I found myself dreading simple social engagements and the schedule of the plain-old 9-5 job I had rededicated my time to. Writing happened, but slowly and with barely a sense of pleasure or pride. Another year passed in this gray space. I sought treatment for anxiety and depression – with varying degrees of success.

I hit a breaking point. I had the freedom to fight my own battles and pursue my own creative instincts again. Why wasn’t I happy about that?

I took a hiatus from work – a risky, unpaid month I knew I had to take or risk a nervous breakdown. During that period I dove further into solitude, taking long, meandering walks and rediscovering my ability to let go of daily stress and responsibility and simply focus on me. I dug up an old but interesting writing idea and forced myself to at least look for that creative spark again.

To my surprise and delight, I found it. A spark of a spark, but a recognition that my muse was still alive and well in there. I hadn’t trampled her to death trying to sing loud and proud on stage.

So slowly but surely I started coming back. I moved closer to town again, realizing that hiding from the world entirely was doing me even less good than losing myself in it. The small writing project turned into a big one. Today I’m roughly half-way through a novel that has me more intrigued and excited than anything I’ve written since my escapist teen years. I’ve been going back to Writers Association meetings and trying to pick up some of the slack I left behind.

I still hear a voice inside me to be more and do more. To build community rather than passively experience it. To be that rock star and to receive immediate validation on a public stage rather than a quieter, more honest appreciation from those I know and trust – and most importantly from myself.

This leads me to today, completely aware that I’m still not in a place to make any promises of “doing better,” posting weekly and getting back completely into the conductor’s seat of the self-promotion train.

Life got in the way. That’s the easy answer why I and other bloggers in my position disappear and let their blogs lapse and their readership drift off to newer, more exciting outlets. What I think a more accurate explanation is: Life evolved.

I’m not the guy I was on October 24th, 2014, the date of my last post. I’ve done things and been through things and been taken places just like every individual – artist or not goes through. It’s hard to make a plan and stick with it because we suddenly find ourselves turning right instead of left at an fateful intersection we may not have ever expected. Opportunities fall into our laps. Mistakes happen. So do miracles.

So the next time your favorite blogger disappears or your favorite musician takes a sudden hiatus from performing, take a moment to wonder what beautiful or terrible thing took them away from you, but also have some compassion for the choices they made that led them there. They’re still going through the journey you’ve been following them on. They just had to leave the microphone behind, at least for now.

As for me, you’ll probably see me again. Or maybe not. Regardless, I’m grateful for the opportunity to share myself with you form time to time, when life and inspiration allow.

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Stories From a Six Year Old: The Ghost

IMG_20140123_145323Recently my mother uncovered a stack of stories written by a six year old me. I’ve decided to start an ongoing feature where I share these stories – complete with typos and misspellings – just so you can see not only that I’ve been telling stories for as long as I could talk, but that the stories that come out of this little head have always been a bit…off.

Today’s story is stretching a bit because I realize I was probably 8 when I wrote it even though it was stored with my 1986-87 papers, but I thought it was too good to pass up. It was an exercise I was given in school requiring me to use certain big words. Those words were underlined on my paper. The results are interesting.

The Ghost

Last night I had a dream about making a commercial that promoted a new Ghostbuster movie! In my dream I requested that my little brother be submitted as the baddest ghost in town. When I woke up next to my bed all dressed up like a little ghost was my brother looking mean and saying, “According to copyright protection any photograph or produced endorsement from a book or movie must have prior approval.” I said, “What?”

the end

I’m a Loud Voice Doing Loud Things

IMG_20140313_181717Why must society value extroverts so much? Just wanted to muse on that for a moment.

I was thinking back this morning on pretty much every job interview I’ve ever had. All of them went something like this:

Potential Employer (hereafter referred to as PE): “So would you say you’re a people person?”

Me: “Oh absolutely! I love meeting new people.”

PE: “Do loud and obnoxious people make you uncomfortable?”

Me: “No, never! I find it easy to get along with all types of people.”

PE: “So what did you study in college?”

Me: “Philosophy and World Religions.”

PE: (dead silence, skips to next question) “Would you call yourself a leader?”

Me: “I’d say so. I consider myself a capable and compassionate team builder.”

– Two weeks later –

PE: “I’m sorry, but we’ve decided to go with someone more assertive.”

Now allow me to point out that many of these interviews were for stock room or warehouse personnel. Yep, Corporate America even wants extroverts sweeping their floors and unloading their trucks. Allow me to also point out that many of my answers were gross exaggerations of my actual social abilities. I do love people. I am, however, not particularly good at talking to people. At least, not inherently. It took me decades to even get to the point where I could string together a complete sentence when talking to a stranger. What you see and hear of “Rob White” today is about 10% social skill and 90% shoving words from my mouth out of sheer terror and hoping they make sense.

Okay, so that’s an exaggeration, too, but you get what I’m saying. I learned quickly that if I wanted a job that wasn’t from a relative – or hell, even one that was – I had to pretend to be something I’m not; that is: an extrovert.

Society wants loud people! Society wants opinions! Society wants confidence! Society wants you to live an EXTREME lifestyle and do EXTREME things and buy lots and lots and lots of Mountain Dew. Society wants you to believe something very strongly about politics and religion and shout those opinions evvvvvvvvvvvvvvverywhere. If you don’t…you’re just a little person, and who listens to them?

Well, fuck society. There, I said it.

I’m about damn ready to close my copy of Skyrim, sew an introvert flag made from footie pajamas, harness about a hundred house cats to pull my reclining chariot and lay siege to the halls of TMZ and Fox News and whatever board room The Man happens to be holed up in and say, “Look dude! Quiet people matter, too.”

Afterwards I’ll need about a week of me-time to recover, but it’ll be worth it. Who’s with me?

Stories From a Six Year Old: The Fire

IMG_20140123_145323Recently my mother uncovered a stack of stories written by a six year old me. I’ve decided to start an ongoing feature where I share these stories – complete with typos and misspellings – just so you can see not only that I’ve been telling stories for as long as I could talk, but that the stories that come out of this little head have always been a bit…off.

Today’s a double feature. The picture at the end really sells the first story. So without further ado, I present….

The Fire

Today we almost had a fire at school. I thote someone was killed in a fire. I heard that a lady saw smock. I felt scared. I saw an ambulums, firetruksandapolicar.

IMG_20140306_0001

The Castle

I went to a castle with a grave yrard. Fredy Krouger riped my face off. I was going there because I was thirste. He blew up the castle. That was a problem I couldn’t solve.

the end

Stories From a Six Year Old

IMG_20140123_145323Recently my mother uncovered a stack of stories written by a six year old me. I’ve decided to start an ongoing feature where I share these stories – complete with typos and misspellings – just so you can see not only that I’ve been telling stories for as long as I could talk, but that the stories that come out of this little head have always been a bit…off.

So without further ado, I present….

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

One day Santa Claus lost his reindeer. He could not deliver toys with-out his reindeer! For ten days he tryd to think of something but he couldn’t.

He tryed to go on a rowboat but it flipped over. He tryed to go on roller skats but the weels squashed. Then he made an invention that could throw the toys to the right hoases. but it broke. He tryed to send his elves to deliver the toys but the elves sunk in the snow.

Finaly Santa desited to walk. All of a sudden he saw a bike! He also descovered that he was wearing shorts! He road to all the houses and everyone had a Merry Christmas. And santa never found his reindeer again.

the end

Who The Heck Is . . .

Like many others, I too have found my website traffic spiking due to the mysterious Semalt. 100+ hits a day from foreign countries I know I don’t have that many fans in (or do I, El Salvador?) Who are these masked men? Are they scammers? Legitimate businesspeople? An underground network of super villains seeking to infiltrate the WordPress halls of justice? jmmcdowell sheds some light on the situation:

jmmcdowell

3/15 UPDATE

I believe in “better safe than sorry.” So I did not allow a comment on this post today. Why? Because the email address for the sender was at “gmai” [dot] com and not the correct “gmail” [dot] com format. I wasn’t going to take any chances with a spammer or phisher getting through. So if you don’t see a comment of yours coming through after moderation, and you’re a legitimate blogger or person, you might want to consider how your on-line persona looks to your potential audience. I’m not the only blogger who nixes sketchy comments or contact info.

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Let’s Talk Genre

The following is a guest post from Jennifer Innes, the co-author of The Beginning of Whit, a comedic urban fantasy tale recently released on Amazon. As an update to Jennifer’s story below (so sorry it took so long for me to post this, Jennifer!) she and her co-author, Andrew Grace have successfully funded their book’s launch through Kickstarter!!! Way to go, guys!

Let’s Talk About Genre

When I started my own blog many years ago I wanted it to be a place for fantasy authors to go so they knew they weren’t alone. Well, okay so there are enough fantasy books out there to prove this but there weren’t enough people talking about the validity of fantasy as a genre. One of my very first posts was about genre, exploring a wide variety of genres within fantasy (such as ‘historic fantasy’ and ‘urban fantasy’). Understanding your genre as a writer helps strengthen your final product and your credibility as an author.

Most writers I know write in multiple genres, and how can you not? If you have any imagination at all you aren’t limited to only one form of writing or one world you explore through your writing. As an author it is completely valid to write horror, chic lit, urban fantasy, and steam punk. At a certain point you’d probably just call yourself a speculative fiction writer (like I do) which Wikipedia defines as “is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres.”

I personally write several subgenres of fantasy, science fiction and horror. But something that always throws a wrench into labeling a genre is when I start adding comedy to a story. My first finished novel “The Beginning of Whit” is a comedic urban fantasy. Easy enough to label but very hard to pitch. Ace sat on this book for a year, trying to decide if it was publish worthy. Ultimately they decided there “wasn’t a market for it.” And in reality at this point there really isn’t. Sure some famous authors have gotten away with funny fantasy (see: Terry Pratchett and Robert Lynn Asprin) but as a general rule finding these types of books, and the success of these types of books seems far and few between.

But I haven’t given up on my novel yet. My co-author and I decided to try the deep waters of self-publishing and to help cover some of the publishing costs we have launched a Kickstarter for the book. So far the response has been great and we really think the success of Kickstarter will help make the book successful. Knowing our book is unique makes it both interesting and, at times, a hard sell. Even through Kickstarter it can be difficult to get people interested in the project, but knowing our genre we have a better chance of getting people interested.

Knowing your genre allows you to tell people what the book is like, “Yeah, my book about wizardry school is similar to a little known novel about a boy named Harry Potter” or “Do you like the True Blood series? Well my book about a small town full of vampires might be right up your alley!” Now this doesn’t mean copy books that are successful just so you can pitch your book as the next best thing, but it does mean understand the book you already wrote and love so you can find the people who liked something similar. For us, it’s still a struggle to find people interested in comedic fantasy, but based on the success of the funny authors that have come before us, I know this audience is out there and I just have to go and find them.

Follow Jennifer and Andrew on Facebook

Check out The Beginning of Whit on Amazon

Dealing with Abuse in Young Adult Fantasy

Pull2b webFrom Home is Where the Monsters Are:

“David started asking if I could come over. My dad didn’t care what happened to me at that point, so he would take me over there, drop me off and then leave for the afternoon – probably to get wasted in a bar somewhere. The first time I came over, David acted really nice at first, but not a good kind of nice. David was nice like a snake. He gave me ice cream, and I think there was something in it. It made me sleepy. Still awake, but kind of…out of it, and then he slipped a black bag over my head and carried me downstairs.”

Stacy put a hand over her mouth. None of them were sure if they wanted to hear any more but knew that, for Melissa’s sake, they had to.

Abuse of any kind, particularly child abuse, is among the hardest topics to deal with in literature. Making that topic fair game in Young Adult literature has been a controversial but increasingly common development in the literary world. When most people – particularly non-YA readers who are mostly familiar with the Harry Potter movies – picture the Young Adult Fantasy genre they picture happy child wizards on flying broomsticks, facing down the occasional troll the heroes always seem to get away from.

The truth, however, is that children aren’t always smiling. Kids aren’t always loved the way they should be. Sometimes abuse happens and keeping that topic OUT of the books we read is being disingenuous to the true experiences of childhood.  

Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in her Salon Article: “Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?”:

“That ‘adult’ aspect of reading is scary for many of us. It’s our job as parents to protect our kids, even as they slowly move out into the world and further away from our dictates. But there’s something almost comical about raising them with tales of big bad wolves and poisoned apples, and then deciding at a certain point that literature is too ‘dark’ for them to handle. Kids are smarter than that. And a kid who is lucky enough to give a damn about the value of reading knows the transformative power of books.”

As a fantasy author who writes for teens as well as adults, I understand that I will likely face some backlash for including the topics of abuse in Home is Where the Monsters Are and The Pull. I cringe a little inside when I tell a parent that the book is suitable for ages 14 and up because I’m afraid they’ll go home, read the book and then start a campaign to get my book banned from their local library. It’s happened to some of the best books in literature, but for an up-and-coming author, the prospect of backlash is a scary thing.

But I think of the very first person I wrote these books for: myself as a 14 year old. I was dealing with a different kind of abuse then: bullying, but it put me in the kind of place where I could relate to children who were victimized. Hearing their stories and how they overcame being a victim and started being a survivor gave me hope that I could do that too.  

The character of Melissa in Home and The Pull dealt with her personal tragedies by becoming a stronger person. So strong, in fact, that she became feared, herself. Not all of us can become warriors. Some who have faced abuse will become poets and painters, doctors and teachers, but to become aware of not only our own demons but the demons our children face can make us that much more equipped to deal with them. 

Home is Where the Monsters Are

The Pull

Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?

A Great Halloween Read

ImageThe Pull vol 2: Home is Where the Monsters Are is live on Amazon Kindle today! This book was started in 1998, 4 years after I began work on The Pull series. This has always been my favorite entry in the saga and its even more jam packed with action, mystery and excitement than the first one. Epic battles between colorful heroes? Check. A monster so scary even fearless canine warrior Blitz runs away from it? Check. Magic? Romance? Motorcycle chases? It’s got all that and a heck of a lot more. Pick up a copy of Home is Where the Monsters Are (only $2.99) and join in on the fun.

AND between now and Halloween, the first book in the series, The Pull, is available for download ABSOLUTELY FREE!!! You have no excuse not to get in on this action! Unless you don’t have a Kindle or Kindle-capable device, in which case you have a perfectly valid reason. Paperback coming later this week! Yeah! Here are the links to both Home is Where the Monsters Are and The Pull!

Home is Where the Monsters Are on Amazon Kindle!

The Pull for FREE!!!

Link

Smart People Fucking with Each Other

So I was asked the other night to participate in a flash fiction competition over the prompt, “Smart people fucking with each other.” I had 1 hour to write a 1000 word short story based on the topic. Want to see what I came up with? Check out the link. We all have pseudonyms so see if you can guess which one is mine. Enjoy!