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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Fake It ‘Till You Make It

1454617_10151860216158878_903010667_nIntroverted and not sure how to promote yourself as an artist? You’re in good company. Here’s an excerpt from a guest post I just did on fantasy author Jennifer Innes’s blog Fantasy Writers Unite. Follow the link below it to see the rest!

I’m an introvert. If you’re a writer – or any kind of artist, really – I bet you dollars to donuts you’re an introvert too, or at least have some ingrained introvert tendencies. Can’t speak for everyone but growing up I found my mental and creative stimulation through fantasy rather than through social interaction. I was the kid swinging the wooden sword in the woods at invisible goblins. I was the kid drawing monsters in the back of class instead of passing notes to cute girls. I was also the kid who had more than one epic fantasy tale mapped out in my brain before the age of 18. As an adult who allowed himself to believe that he could be a “real writer” (I’m one of those guys who says that being a real writer is about intention rather than measurable results) I finally began to share those fantasies with the world. If another lonely kid can gain the same thrill from my stories as I gained from Tolkien or Stephen King or Final Fantasy then I’d say all these hours in front of a keyboard or notepad covered in chicken scratch have been worth it.
 
Buuuut – and it’s a big but and I cannot lie – being a writer who releases his/her work to the public means that an introvert suddenly has to develop skills usually associated with that mysterious and alien race known as extroverts. We have to smile and greet passersby in hopes that they’ll buy our book (and therefore buy us lunch). We have to say hey, hi and how are you to dozens of names and faces online and in bookstores in hopes that they’ll carry or review our book. And if we’re really bold and really lucky – or persistent – we’ll get to sit at a table in front of a microphone and tell prospective authors about our experiences and how to get ahead in the business.

 

Read the rest and check out Jennifer’s work at http://fanwritunit.blogspot.com/

How Pain Can Lead to Wonder

ImageI’ve insinuated during this blog that my high school experience wasn’t easy. That’s putting it lightly. In fact it was the hardest four years of my life. Social anxiety prevented me from talking to anyone for fear of making them not like me. That fact, in turn made them not like me. By the time my junior and senior years came around I was simply known as the silent kid and any attempt I made to make friends was laughed down or looked at with mistrust because I was trying to step outside of my prescribed role, and in high school roles are everything.

Because I couldn’t have friends in the real world (or at least told myself I couldn’t), I resorted to creating friends in my head. First and foremost was a big sister character who was tough, funny, protective and a wise-ass who could love me even though I was quiet. She needed a face, so I looked around at my classmates and saw a tall striking blonde who looked like she was always ready to kick someone’s butt. That became Melissa Moonbeam.

Next I needed a brother character who would be the thinker of the group. He was intelligent and philosophical but also kind and with a dry sense of humor. That became Jason Dredd. There was no one around me who was quite like Jason at the time, so I composited a middle school friend named Damien (my first African American friend) and my real life brother Andy.

I realized then that I was missing an important element to this group: a love interest. I needed someone who would react to my character (more on that in a bit) with kindness, understanding, encouragement and warmth. It just so happened I had an enormous crush on a girl I barely knew at the time. That crush developed because of one instance of kindness showed to me after I had embarrassingly goofed up during a mandatory school play. Because she had shown that element of kindness I needed I took her face and her name and combined it with the warmth and understanding I wanted in a character it would always give me butterflies to be around. In that way, Stacy Cross was born.

Now there was one thing developing during all of this that I’ve neglected to mention. I was assembling that “ideal” circle of friends around me, but during the course of it I was also creating a fictional character for myself. It wasn’t the ideal me, for this version of me had flaws as well, but it was a me I could respect during a time I found it very difficult to respect the real thing. When I looked into my mind’s eye I stopped seeing myself and began to see Nick.

I mistrusted my own identity, so Nick was a character with no identity and no last name. I was skinny and weak, so Nick was skinny but could still kick ass. I didn’t care for my face, so Nick wore a mask. I was uncertain about what I was meant to do with my life, so Nick followed a Pull towards a destiny he neither knew nor trusted. In ways Nick was stronger; in ways Nick was more broken; but he was always quintessentially me even when I didn’t want to admit it.

There were other elements that sprung up around these characters. I wanted a constant companion so a dog named Blitz was born. I felt that teenage life presented an ever-present adversary for me and always whispered in my ear that I would never be strong enough, so an unstoppable monster named The Whisper came to life to unceasingly torment Nick.

These characters were born to give me comfort. When I sat in the back of a classroom struggling with my schoolwork, Melissa, Jason and the others comforted me and made me laugh. When I felt bullied or threatened, a scene would play out in my mind where Nick battled The Whisper and always held his own – or his friends joined him and battled the threat along side him.

These characters soon grew beyond mere comforting mechanisms and began to have lives of their own. In bed at night dreading what the next day would bring, I’d suddenly find a scene playing out in my mind. I’d see Nick and Melissa arguing over something. At first I wouldn’t be sure what, but like wiping the fog away from a window soon I knew. I knew what they argued about and what caused it and what that fight led to and how Stacy and Jason felt about it and that The Whisper was watching the whole time and that Blitz the dog was curled up on the couch oblivious to it all.

My subconscious took these characters from my grasp – maybe borrowed is a better word – and brought them to life. As if glimpsing a movie or a TV show, I watched the entire story of their lives, from Nick waking up alone in the woods with a sword in his hand to the fateful battle atop the *omitted for spoilers*. I gasped when Jason defeated Raven atop a factory in New Orleans. I grinned in triumph when Melissa took to her motorcycle and decided to face her past for the sake of her friends. I wept tears of loss when characters died and screamed in frustration when The Whisper showed up at the wrong time and just couldn’t be beaten.

My conscious mind created fantastical versions of the friends I truly wanted, and my subconscious mind pulled a life – a story for them to live through – from the ether. I didn’t intend to create the story of The Pull, and yet it happened. What I did decide to do, though, was grab a notepad in my parents’ basement in 1994 and begin writing those scenes down.

The story of the process of shaping The Pull into a novel is best left for another time, but I wanted to share that because I think its important for us to realize that even the worst times in our life can give birth to something beautiful. I’ll never call The Pull “the greatest story ever told” but it is my greatest story because it is the one my heart gave me when I needed it most. I share it in hopes that it may be able to give a bit of comfort to those in pain in the same way it did to me. It’s an adventure story. It’s a popcorn tale, but it just so happens to be one about finding your true value in a time when nothing is certain.

That value is always there to be found. Sometimes we need monsters to fight, journeys to take and friends to take it with us, but I truly believe that at the end of our own Pull, something beautiful is always waiting.

The Pull Costume for Dragon*Con 2013

ImageCosplaying as Nick from The Pull at Dragon*Con this year. I’d say its coming along nicely. Have any of you ever cosplayed as characters from your original fiction before?

Creativity Through the Fog of Depression

Some of the best artists were inspired by their sadness. Poe, Dickens and van Gogh immediately come to mind. Maybe inspired isn’t the right word though. Maybe they were driven forward by depression; shoved to push their emotion through the only outlet they knew and in the process creating art that lasted through the ages. I’d say more of us, however are simply halted in our tracks by it.

When I say depression I don’t simply mean sadness or loss; I include apathy, lethargy and self-doubt in this grouping because all affect artists in a similar way: they are feelings that either create art within us or prevent us from doing so. I myself am a victim of the latter kind of depression. When I’m filled with self-doubt, every word that appears upon the page is one I neither trust nor feel that I can follow through with. On my down days, I’ll type out a page, absolutely hate it and not touch the keyboard for the rest of the day.

I’ve tried pushing through it. On rare occasions that has worked but more often than not I end up junking everything I’ve written that day because there’s simply no spark of inspiration in it. It’s the sad ramblings of a distracted mind. It might be different if I was a poet or a painter or a songwriter where stream-of-consciousness creation can often lead to genius, but as a fiction writer if I’m not in the game and in the head of my characters that work is going nowhere.

Before I give you the wrong idea with this entry, let me stop and tell you that I don’t have a solution to this dilemma. There won’t be a magical “ah-ha” proclamation at the end of this page that tells you how to pull yourself up by your bootstraps while feeling down and get back to creating great art. I’m a seeker just like you are. This is a blog of questions more than answers, no matter how much I wish it to the contrary. I want to know what you want to know, and in voicing these questions I hope to begin to see answers peeking through the fog, or perhaps even discover that those answers lie within the questions themselves.

Perhaps the ups and downs and how we deal with them are what make us alive. We can’t be at our “best” every day or even most days because on any given day we will only be who we are. I can’t put on a magic hat and suddenly be the best Rob there can be. I can only be today’s Rob. I think…there’s something beautiful in that. My inspiration will come not out of pushing and pulling and fighting it, but out of letting it happen. If you believe yours comes from a similar direction, try to be proud of that, not frustrated by it.

You know the adage about the quietest of us often having the most profound things to say? Maybe that’s a good metaphor for some of us. We sit. We listen. We live, and then suddenly we open our mouths and something beautiful comes out.

I may be back to being frustrated with myself tomorrow, but today that realization makes me smile 🙂

Just…Can’t…Get…MOTIVATED!!!

It’s Tuesday. Tuesdays are usually high-energy, super productive days for me. It just so happens that this particular Tuesday is the day after Memorial Day, and therefore feels like a Monday. What should be a productive day for me is turning into an aimless slog because I am generally useless on the first day of the work week. Whine whine, cry me a river, I know. So what does one do on a day like this when demand is high and energy is so low you can barely feel it? Hell if I know, but I thought I’d throw out some possibly valid solutions.

1. Caffeine: Obvious answer is obvious

2. Meditation: Now we’re getting somewhere. Sit still, preferably but not necessarily in a quiet space, close your eyes and focus on your breath for ten minutes. See if calming your mind and slowing the traffic of unorganized thought can bring about a new burst of motivation. Sometimes its easier for me to get into that space than others, but frequently the simple act of internal stillness can work wonders and point me in a productive direction.

3. Talk to someone you love: Get encouragement. Call your mother or your spouse or your child and simply embrace the joy of hearing their voice. Share how you’re feeling and accept any support or compliment they have to give you. Remember that no matter how down you feel, there’s always someone on your team cheering you on.

4. Exercise: This can be as simple as doing 100 jumping jacks or as intense as running two miles. Just get your blood pumping, kickstart your metabolism and see if that doesn’t drive some energy into your brain and senses.

5. Have sex: Get that feeling called sexual healing. If only it was that easy for most of us to do this in the office or workplace. Okay, maybe it shouldn’t be THAT easy or we’d all be in trouble.

6. Just do it: Forge ahead even if you don’t feel the energy to do so. Sometimes you’ll tap into a momentum you can carry forward into the rest of your week. Don’t allow yourself to say no and you might be surprised at what you can do.

So that’s about all I’ve got. For me, the simple act of writing can conjure up some energy. Maybe embracing our passion can drag us out of the doldrums.

Leave a suggestion or two in the comments. What do you do to motivate yourself on a Monday (or Tuesday after a holiday)?

Self-Published Author – Not a License to Be a Jerk

Okay, lords and ladies, I want to throw my two cents into your hat or ring or shoe or whatever other metaphorical container you prefer I throw metaphorical change in. Just because you’re a published or self-published author does not mean you get to suddenly be an elitist butthole who can dictate what does or does not make a writer, what genres are and are not “real writing”, and what style is or isn’t “art”.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have standards for things like grammar (except for lovable scamps like Cormac McCarthy) and making things clean and readable for our audience, HOWEVER, what we do not have the license to do, as authors, is tell someone whether or not they’re a real writer.

Example: Yesterday I noticed a tweet from a self-published author that read as follow: “YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen (it was a hashtag, pardon the unusual caps) you are constantly saying ‘I should write that down’.”  My quote-unquote clever response to her was, “YouKnowYouAreAWriterWhen you have a dream that intelligent ducks enslave society, wake up and say, ‘I should write that down’.”  Her response to my response was as follows: “Hah.  Or maybe not….”

Now maybe I’m just reading too much into this, but that, ladies and gents, sure felt like I just got bitch slapped.

It just so happens that I actually AM working on a short story involving hyper intelligent ducks and class warfare (it’s less funny than it sounds), and it also so happens that I take offense to someone telling me what does or does not make me a writer.  So what if I decide to write about ducks?  Does that mean I can’t make an intelligent, thought provoking, entertaining piece about duck-human warfare?  “Maybe not”, at least according to one author.

Come on, people.  We get it, you’re talented and driven and successful, at least in your own eyes.  So let others enjoy their own talent, drive and success, even if it isn’t in a medium or presented within a theme that you enjoy or consider “art”.  Let me love what I love and I’ll do the same for you.

Who knows?  Maybe Urban Duck Fantasy is the next big thing.