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 6 Year Old: Read by a 33 Year Old

Recently me and the gang at Athens Writers Association (check out my upcoming AWA page to see info and other stories!) performed a reading at a local coffee shop. Since I’ve been playing around with a journal of stories written when I was six I decided to read some. I’ll let Video-Me introduce them. Enjoy!

Self-Publishing From a Female-Driven Perspective

ImageWhat follows is a guest post I requested from my fellow Athens Writers Association author, Katherine Cerulean.

I am writing and planning on self-publishing three books in the next year. I am also a woman.  Now, I’ve never really thought of those two things at the same time, or wondered how interconnected they might be.  But then Rob White, (who I first got to know on FB as we talked about female characters) asked me if I’d write about this topic for his site.

At first all my thoughts were glib.  What was the difference between us female self-published writers and the male ones?  Most of us wear bras?  My sister offered that ‘different parts shake when we write in the nude’.  I had a feeling neither answer was what Rob was asking.  What he wanted to know, I figured, was what didn’t he know or understand about the journey and struggles of a female writer?  Rob’s always been a great proponent of females characters, be it in games, movies, or books, but what about the heroine’s real-life counterparts?  What was that experience like?

Woah, I thought to myself.  I’m probably the least qualified female writer around to write on ‘the female experience’.  I was home schooled out in the country, my only sibling was a sister as tough and who loved the outdoors as much as I did.  My mother was very unsentimental and my father cried at romantic comedies.  AND I break out in hives at the idea of generalizing about women.  Surely there was someone better.

Then I realize, that is part of the experience.  Rob is probably not asked to be the torch-bearer for white men.  Just as a white male character is a blank slate to write a hero’s flaws and eccentricities across, so too is a ‘average’ male self-published author.  If you don’t have a pigeonhole of color, sexuality, or sex, then you start at zero.

Actually, I would argue, below zero, as a writer.  I have thought that’s it’s probably much easier for a woman to strike up a conversation with a stranger than a man; she is at worst no threat and at best a welcome addition.  A man may be welcome too, but he sort of has to prove himself normal and charming, where for a woman it’s expected.

I do feel some women (myself included) do find ourselves at a real disadvantage in being bold and talking to strangers.  They may be happy to talk to us, but we are not used to starting a lot of conversations.  The same is true, only more some, when it comes to selling, shilling, and talking up our books.  There’s still a very real feeling that women should be humble and quiet — and that’s the opposite of the self promotional sales(wo)manship needed to sell books.  We may be making friends, but are we making a profit?  And why do I still feel guilty even thinking about the word ‘profit’?

For myself, the main connection between my sex and my career comes down to characters.  Now, some of my favorite female characters are written by men (of course they are) and I will never believe one can write their own sex better than the other — we are all human in the end.  That said, I think the pressure to write great women characters may be a little more pronounced if you’re female; I know it is for me.

My logic goes like this: more writers still choose to write leads who are their own sex.  And some of my favorite genres are not 50/50 in having male and female writers, so I owe it to woman and little girls everywhere to create some kick-butt heroines in my writing lifetime.  Also, shamefully, I’m more drawn to write male characters.  Why?  Because I’ve seen it done well SO much.  All the more reason to think deeply about my female heroes and even flip sexes while writing a story if it seems suitable.  I have a fantasy called Memento Mori that is in the planning stages and it started out as an adventure with two teenage boys who were in love, but now I’m flipping it to two teenage girls.  I find you can do that sometimes, if it’s early enough in the process.

In closing, I’m reminded of the Chris Rock quote, “Being black is only 5% of my day, but it’s an intense 5%.”  Almost everything I’m doing as a self published author is exactly what Rob is doing, what everyone’s doing, but sometimes I am still brought up short.  By a guy who calls me ‘Hon,’ or by having a very real fear to ask for a sale, or when I have a great idea for a novel but there’s not a female character anywhere near it.

These things are all about me and many women — and men — share them.  And at the end of the day it is this sharing I love — we are all invisible behind our typewriters, no one can see our weight or our makeup, our flaws or our skin color.  And the oldest, whitest guy around may have the exact same fears as the young black woman and he is writing about her and she is writing about him.

There is a weight, a responsibility, to being a female author, but there is a great freedom to being a writer, period.  And one in an era when neither children, lack of money, nor male publishers can hold any of us back.

I can do anything, including forget for a long stretch that I am a woman.

Katherine Cerulean grew up in the countryside near Athens, GA,  home schooled on a farm with dogs, cats, a horse, a pony,  peacocks, rabbits, sheep, goats,  turkeys, an African Gray parrot, and many others.

She has been writing seriously for fifteen years, starting with screenwriting and then moving into novels.  Her completed novels are Other Gods (a fantasy) and A Caged Heart Still Beats (a love story).

She was co-moderator of the Athens Novel Writer Group, wrote a well regarded newsletter for her local Best Buy’s Women’s Leadership Forum chapter.  She is also the creator of People Who Have Come Alive, a Meetup group devoted to helping people achieve their wildest dreams.

She is the founder of the Athens Writers Association.

Katherine still lives in the house she was literally born in (she sleeps 30 feet from where she was born — how many people can say that?), with her sister, who is an amazing artistic genius, and their two dogs.

Since 1997, she has been hard at work improving her craft and measuring up to the high bar of what’s awesome.  Two screenplays and two novels later, she is finally ready to blow the doors off the publishing world with ‘Caged Heart’.

http://katherinecerulean.com

Taking What They Giving ‘Cause We’re Writing For a Living

ImageI have a confession to make. I don’t write fiction full time. Shocking, right? I should be sitting on a magical cloud eating green and blue cookies and drinking sunshine juice and pumping out magical worlds 24/7 while wizards fight dragons on a nearby cloud. Okay, those of your that have read my fiction know that’s not exactly what my full time creative bubble would look like (there’d be a bit less rainbows and a few more scary monsters), but you get where I’m going with this.

No, from time to time -okay a lot of the time- I write for clients. I’ve written for utility companies, I’ve written for design firms, I’ve written for online retailers and even art magazines. Sometimes I’ve known what I was talking about. Sometimes I had to research the difference between an Ai Weiwei and a Rudolf Stingel. Always I’ve been able to produce a piece that said what the client wanted to say with just a little bit of that “Rob irreverence™” mixed in for taste. The results have left my clients anywhere from mostly satisfied to ZOMG WHY HAVEN’T YOU BEEN WRITING ALL OF MY WEBSITE COPY SINCE 2001? I can’t really brag though because for every few wins there’s always a client who just isn’t satisfied with anything unless you crawl inside of their head and pluck their thoughts out word-for-word.

It’s grunt work. It’s unglamorous and often uncredited but it pays the bills and allows me to keep my writing muscles nice and flexed, not to mention allows me to experience writing in styles and voices I normally might never have thought to. In the meantime, I get to step away whenever I can and jump right back into the ocean of creativity and the fictional worlds and characters I know and love.

So how about you? Are any of you writing for people other than yourself and your fans? How does it make you feel? Do you feel challenged or does your creativity get drained and leave you unable to devote the energy you want to your creative work?

Getting Up Again: When Emotional Slumps Lead to Creative Ones

As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t written in this blog in over a month. The last time I did was a simple excerpt from a novel I’m working on. The reason for this is that I’ve been wrestling with emotions for a while now that left me feeling drained, tired and weak. Too weak to even feel the energy to try to be creative.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. Well, I say that but every life stumble is different. Each disappointment is its own particular cocktail that leaves you with its own particular hangover. This one was about self-doubt, wondering if I’ll ever really know what to do with my tidal waves of emotion, and frustration at a life-long pattern of inability to hold onto something beautiful.

But a person very important to me kept telling me throughout this that the thing I need to focus on is compassion for myself. Instead of raging against what I feel are personal stumbles I need to embrace myself and tell myself that, no matter what happens and no matter what I do, I love myself and I’m worth loving anyway. Though it hasn’t always been easy and though my natural reaction to failure since childhood is to want to yell at myself for not being strong enough, I know she’s absolutely right. At the end of the day, the most important arms around me are my own.

As artists (and in some lovely way, we’re all artists of our own craft) we have a means of pulling ourselves up when we feel so very down. We can create. We can put our fingers to keyboard or guitar strings, we can put our brush to canvas or hands to clay and simply let flow. It doesn’t matter what we’re creating or what can or will result from it. When we create, we’re letting our hearts sing.

That song may sound weak at first or even out of tune, but as we sing, about everything and anything and every bit of what’s inside of us, that voice can’t help but get stronger…and clearer…and more true. As we sing, we wrap those arms around ourselves and let our compassion for ourselves become a part of the vast love of the world. We may not feel beautiful in the moment, but by creating and therefore being the truest form of who we are, we become a part of the greatest beauty of all.

So know that, even when you feel empty, even when you feel trapped or untethered, there is always a way out. Listen for your heart’s song and sing it. It’s always there, and it will always carry you home.

What Dreams May Come: Creativity in Your Sleep

– “Humans and Chickens are slaves to robot army”

– “2 astronauts get caught in a giant space net and taken to a giant-sized version of Earth”

– “Island nation is invaded by Nazis. Kid fights back by leading sea monster and fairy army”

All of these are entries in my dream journal. All of them are also being written into short stories. Why? Because I bloody well have to. Sometimes I wake up fresh from a dream so intense, so weird and so exhilarating that I have to follow that story thread through. See my dreams never have an ending. The only way for me to see what happens is to let my imagination take me there.

Here’s an example of one I finished:

– “Small town kids all turn into super heroes. Quiet kid gets it first and learns his school crush is a super villain”

And here’s a link to the actual story:

http://www.fictionpress.com/s/2879058/1/Heat-Vision

Not all of us dream the same. I have a friend that claims he only dreams about mundane scenarios from his ordinary life. Not too exciting to write about sitting in the office drinking a cup of coffee. And yet…the writer in me wants to try to pull a story out of just that scenario. What if the coffee is…EVIL COFFEE!!! What if it’s actually a living liquid creature that is letting itself be drank so it can infiltrate the body of my friend and make him do horrible things that will culminate in the destruction of Earth as we know it! Okay, I’ll stop there.

The point to my fellow writers, storytellers, artists of all mediums and weavers of tales of all shapes and sounds is to mine your dreams. Mine them like there’s gold there and each and every fleck and pebble you find is a valuable commodity waiting to be turned into a beautiful necklace worn by a fairy tale princess.

Just re-read the above. Yikes. My melodrama is showing. I want to go on a tangent now about how we need to create for ourselves and what our subconscious desires ask of us, but I’ll save that for another time. I smell another blog tomorrow! Smells like fried pickles.

Later, dreamers