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!

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/

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

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!

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

A Shy Writer at Dragon*Con

dconmeThere’s a little place that’s been a home away from home for me for the past ten years. It’s less a place, really and more of a state of mind, collection of absurd moments, explosion of untamed expression and geek nirvana all rolled into one. That place is called Dragon*Con. Or Dragon Con if you want to be specific. This year they took out the asterisk. Why was it there to begin with? Because why the hell not. Such is the philosophy of Dragon Con.

I’ve been there seven times in ten years. Three of those years I was lame (or broke depending on how you want to look at it). The other seven years I made the conscious choice to be awesome and throw myself into the storm with nary a plan nor a life preserver nor a care for life nor limb nor liver. This year was my first year attending as a published writer.

My plan was simple. Go there in costume as my protagonist and every time someone asked who I was I’d tell them about my work. I had 500 business cards printed out with my cover art and URL to this very site printed on them. I brought about 50 books in case I could consign some with any of the booksellers in the dealers room. I scheduled (via the handy Dragon Con app) to attend every writer panel I could get my grubby costumed hands on and meet as many people there as possible. Naturally I also brought protein bars, lots of deodorant, $400 cash and a bottle of blueberry vodka to carry in a flask so I wouldn’t have to spend that $400 cash on $10 hotel bar drinks.

I won’t give you all the dirty details because some of them are pretty boring and others are pretty dirty, but here’s the lowdown on what went down downtown in Dragon Con…town:

  • The costume was a great idea. Not only did I get my picture taken a few times – great publicity for The Pull – I also got asked about it a fair bit. That led me into many conversations about who I was, what I did and who the character was. The vast majority of the business cards I gave out landed in pockets this way and not in the trash. I saw another struggling indie author simply handing her cards to every person in the registration line. Do you know what else I saw? A trail of discarded business cards on the sidewalk that could have led Hansel and Gretel into the candy cabin of wasted marketing budget.
  • Going to writing panels was also a great idea. I left some materials on tables in these panels and heard some good advice from successful fantasy and YA authors, but the real prize was the opportunity to talk to other authors like me who were taking steps on their road to getting their work out there. I met fantasy authors, horror authors, comic authors and even a lesbian bondage erotica author from Ireland. All of them were very cool people who I hope to meet again.
  • Trying to get my book consigned by booksellers? Not such a great idea. I figured it was a long shot but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of bungholery I received from vendors telling me with their lips that they weren’t interested and telling me with their eyes to go die in a fire. Getting your book carried by retailers in real life is hard. Getting your book carried by retailers during a con is a hell of a lot harder. Plus most of them were from out of state and didn’t want any more stock than what they currently had. Fair enough. Best of luck to them.
  • I learned that the best way to talk to guest writers themselves is to go to readings. Often it’ll just be you and a handful of other fans shooting the breeze with one of their favorite authors. Hell, even if you don’t know the author it’s still a good way to glean some insight from someone with experience in the industry.

Now keep in mind I did all of this as an introvert with lifelong social anxiety and a complete lack of understanding of the language of small talk. It just so happens, however, that I am also an introvert with lifelong social anxiety, a complete lack of understanding of the language of small talk AND A COMPLETE UNWILLINGNESS TO LET MYSELF CHICKEN OUT AND BE ANYTHING LESS BUT AWESOME. I realized early on that I was among people with similar passions to my own, so an easy icebreaker was always within reach. Inside of writer panels my secret weapon was, “So what do you write?” Outside of writer panels it was, “So what are you here for?” Sometimes I got the blank stare, but more often than not people were excited to share their interests with me and listen to mine.

This experience has given me a great amount of encouragement and more than a little bit of gumption to go back out there and bring my masked, writin’ self to every little (or big) convention, seminar and meeting of writers and fantasy/sci-fi fans I can possibly attend. It’ll be like I’m a touring musician except I’ll be lugging books around instead of an expensive PA system. At best I’ll successfully market myself as a writer. At worst I’ll have a hell of a good time.

Dragon Con 2014, get your beautifully weird behind over here so I can keep this crazy train rolling.