Living in the Ebbs and Flows of Creative Life

Some days, all I can think of are the things I want to write. Other days, I can’t believe I ever thought that those ideas were any good, that I’m any good as a writer, and that I even have the audacity to even attempt to show up in spaces with much more talented, legit writers and creatives inhabit.

Some days, I’m so pissed off that the poetry project isn’t out in the world yet, all because of my lack of better financial planning. I feel stuck, held back in the whole process because literally nothing has gone the way I had envisioned with this project.

Today, I’m feeling the weight of everything while I plot out a Science Fiction novel.

All of the tension and frustration is there, but so is the resolution to continue on. Although I am acknowledging the reality of being  financially and artistically stuck with the poetry project, I’m also somehow able to sit down and work on this next project. I think that this is what it means to keep moving forward as a creative when you aren’t done with one project, but you have others that need to get done, or at least started on.

It could and has been so easy for me to get frustrated with my current project. But guess what? it will get done. It will eventually be out there in the world. I’m still doing what I can to promote it, sure, but I’m saving my energy for when it’s finished and ready to be thrown out into the world, and just doing what I financially can to get the project done.

I’m trying to use my ebbs and flows to keep things going forward. I mean those times when I’m highly motivated to get shit done, but also those times when I’m not writing anything, but the ideas, the words and concepts are germinating for a story or poem.

It’s so easy to get bogged down and feel like you aren’t doing anything at all when you aren’t actively writing or creating.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I sometimes binge watch entire TV series because that show deals with a concept or an idea that I want to explore or write about. Sometimes I will take notes or create an outline while watching, other times, I just soak it all in. While it’s true that I genuinely enjoy watching quality TV (and sometimes I just need something mindless to decompress from the day) I don’t feel bad for not writing those days or nights, because during those times, I’m flowing with my creative process. Sometimes that’s absorption, sometimes that’s putting it down on paper. It all works out in the end, and it’s still something that I’m getting used to listening to and following.

There will always be work that needs to be done for any and all projects I create and release. Sometimes the things that need to get done I’ll be able to plan out and manage (which I greatly prefer) and other times, like right now, I’ll just do my best with what I have.

I hope that you are allowing yourself the time and space to work within your ebbs and flows today, and if you have no idea what I’m even talking about, that’s ok too. Of course there are things you just need to do and get done, this encouragement to follow your creative ebb and flow isn’t license to be lazy or to not get shit done. If you do it right, and as you get more used to your own process and timing, you will find a way to get the tasks done doing the periods of time that correspond to that being most productive and effective for you. I’m still working on this at both being a writer and case manager. Some days, I can create a to-do list, make a dozen phone calls and have most of the tasks done by lunch. Other days, I struggle to make a single call or respond to one email until 3pm. While I start each day with a plan for what needs to get done, I find that I’m most productive at some things first thing in the morning, and that I shouldn’t save some things for the end of the day, or they might not get done. Of course, I can make myself make those phone calls, return the emails and write those case notes at any given time, however sometimes I can do them MUCH better and effectively during particular parts of the day or even the week or month.

Ebb and flow. Germination and creation.

 

Dreaming big with little steps

It’s good to be able to dream big, but it’s also good (and helpful) to realize what reality as a writer will look like.

For example, my big, crazy dream is to be able to travel and write. I want to be able to write my own stuff, but I also want to be able to write about important things going on around me, be it political, social or cultural, and take some photos as well. A independent photojournalist or something of that sort. Or maybe I just want to be able to live in a shack in the woods and just write madly until the end of my days, it really changes daily.

I suppose I could buckle down and work really hard on studying what others are doing in these areas, which is totally possible in my spare time, and it would just take the patience and practice (and luck) of being a blogger and Instrgram poster who monetizes my content and has a big following of folks who appreciate my wit and candor regarding coffeeshops that I visit and like, or just my musings on a current event or political situation I find interesting.

In reality, I’m going to be lucky if I can finally get this current book project funded and out into the world, and put out a poetry chapbook or even some novel-length work every couple of years. I’m a working hack who happens to like his job and be fairly good at it most days, and unless we become independently wealthy, I’m going to be slogging away until retirement and then some at some structured form of work.

Another thing I could and will likely do is work my ass off to promote and support other fellow writers and artists, and create some community spaces for folks to gather and congregate within here and there.

I suppose I could start some sort of business doing that, or even more likely a non-profit to be able to afford more time to do those things, but both of those will detract from my already limited time and mental capacity. This isn’t me writing those off as never-gonna-happens, but it’s me being realistic regarding my current capabilities and strengths. I’ve never ran a business or none-profit before, and after doing some initial research and inquiring, these routes don’t seem very viable or sustainable without an enormous amount of start-up capital and a hellva lotta grant applications.

So, where do my dreams and my current reality intersect? What do my strengths and capabilities allow for right now?

And knowing myself, I’m not going to be happy with my conclusion tomorrow, or two days from now, or next week. I’m gonna look at what I’ve assigned myself and think “dude, what the fuck? You can be doing so much more! You can just be working for yourself!” While these self-criticisms might hold some truth, I know myself well enough to know that if I let my dreams overtake the present-day, manageable stuff I can realistically do and maintain, I’m going to take on too much, spread myself too thin, and do a shitty job at everything.

If you’ve never overextended yourself to the point of a near mental and emotional breakdown, when everything is going wrong with your job, your marriage and you are desperately broke, and I highly recommend it. Ok, I actually don’t recommend it at all, but until you have more plates in the air then you can keep there, then you might think that I’m playing it too safe, not taking that big risk that you need to in order to really “live your dreams” or whatever. I’ve been there one too many times, and with my tendency to overcommit myself to all the things coupled with days when I’m to depressed or anxious/frustrated to barely do the bare minimum, I need to keep my dreams and what’s actually achievable for myself in check.

So, what’s achievable and realistic for me right now, you may ask?

Well, I’m still working on getting this book project printed, and am slowly making strides (I think) at revising the promo materials such has social media and websites regarding the project, as well as planning out and outlining the next several writing projects. I’m also working on creating that aforementioned community space by planning out a few monthly writing groups and meetups for busy folks who just want a few dedicated hours to focus on their stuff, but without the need to share it or feel pressured to present and preform in some kinda way. I’m also working on practical ways to support and promote my fellow writer and artist friends by helping them out a bit more with things that I already attend or would have helped them out with anyway.

No, it doesn’t sound as thrilling as quitting my day job and jetting off across the country and world, wowing people with my deep introspection on whatever it is that day, but it’s my speed, and just about right for what I can handle right now, at least for this year. So, I’m trying to dream big in little steps, and we will see where that takes me.

Self-Care and the Creative

So, I’ve been spending this weekend launching a Patreon page as well as launching the book project YouTube Channel, and also revising the business plan and creating the first draft of my Grad school essay and…

All of these things, I’ve needed to do for a while now, and it felt really good to finally check them off the list, but something I’d stumbled across several weeks ago keeps coming up for me…what am I doing so that I can sustain all of these projects and sites and pages and greater connectivity and all the things that I’m trying to establish to be able to finally afford to be able to not only launch this book project, but also successfully promote it and establish the foundation for my writing career beyond this book project?

Well, something you should know about me: I tend to thrive on chaos. By which I really mean, I tend to find myself trying to occupy my time and my mind as much as possible, because in reality, I don’t do well with boredom or idle time, and I’m much better as a person when I can be intentional about my downtime, and when I can plan my time.

So, while trying to get this book published and launched and then also trying to start a business so hopefully I can sustain and grow my connection and support of other artists and writers, there has been an endless supply of things to occupy myself with, which has been good and bad.

However, if I wish to continue at being a decent person, who can continue to maintain my day job and start grad school and still be a decent husband and father, then that means I’m gonna need to build in some safety nets and curated “me” time, time to just take a walk or take my boys to the park or just sit for five minutes without a laundry list of everything I SHOULD be doing right at that moment running on repeat through my head.

This will be hard for me, but it’s also what I NEED to be able to build into my system, my process and my life. I’ve learned the hard way, being someone in the social services field for all these years, that it’s not enough to just wish or hope for a reprieve from all the world’s demands, but to be intentional about that shit.

Also, what I am doing and sharing and attempting to get out there into the world is heavy shit, MY heavy shit. This creation of mine is all about the ups and downs of my life, and some of the darkest conjurings of of my mind and soul, and while writing and creating these pieces was liberating, it’s also a reopening of the wound each time I come into contact with them.

I imagine it’s probably like that for a lot of you out there as well. It could just be the dark and heavy matter that I’ve decided to delve into and explore within myself and then share with the whole wide world, but even my happier pieces are steeped in previous times or loves or more innocent parts of my life, which on any given day, could cut just as deeply as my heaviest stuff, if for no other reason, nostalgia and longing for that ‘first-love’ feeling again.

So, all this to say, I need to build in some parameters and leeway for myself while I’m building up and out.

I wish I could just say that I’m just going to start running again or eating healthier, but if I’m gonna try to build something that could potentially last for the rest of my life, be it 10 or 20 or 50 more years, that’s gonna require me trying a few things out, discovering what works and doesn’t work for me, and getting into a good routine, and then doing the whole search and discovery process all over again in 6-8 months, because I get bored easily and while I like being able to anticipate my day, I also don’t like being stuck doing the same things day after day after day.

So, while I am trying to figure out what self-care means as someone who writes or creates written content all the goddamn time, in both my professional and personal life, I encourage you to work on your own self-care needs and techniques as well. What are you doing currently to take care of yourself? what do you think you need to do to recharge and step away from it all for just a little while so what you are doing doesn’t become the bane of your existence?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions.

Also, I was able to attack and whittle away at the massive to-do list thanks to my dear friend Anh for opening up her home to me for this weekend, which has allowed me the focus and time/space to finally buckle down and do all these things, and then some, like sleep without a child’s elbow or knee in my back all night.

See? one of the things I know I need more of is quick and simple weekend retreats so that I can focus and work and dream or just veg out. There, that’s a self-care thing that I will be keeping around going forward 🙂

Pigeon-holed or Just Right?

As I’ve been delving more into the guts of crafting a business plan (actually TWO: one for ‘Shadowland’ and one for being an author overall and the next several projects) I had to reconcile two different things that I honestly hadn’t taken into account before: Who is my audience, and who am I?

As I’ve been discovering throughout this process, there is what’s considered your natural audience, such as friends and family who will automatically support and likely purchase this book simply because of their connection to me, but there is also the greater audience: the folks who I would like to get this project in front of who might enjoy it and maybe even purchase it.

For some reason, who that greater audience is has been hard to answer, and I’m realizing that it’s because I haven’t quite figured out how to articulate who I am, as a creative and as a person, that would draw and inform the casual browser of who I am as an artist and why they should keep reading the description for more then two seconds.

Basically, I have to figure out my “Brand.” I know, I’m cringing right along with you.

The past several months, I’ve been trying to figure out how authors and writers have been getting the word out about their books and I, like many have become sucked down the inevitable rabbit hole of what I’ll term “business wizards.” These of course are those individuals that have popped up everywhere with their “five tricks to selling a million books” or some such other tagline to entice you into watching their slickly-produced, peppy videos regarding how the process or methods or programs they’ve developed will lead you to an endless stream of ways to expand the reach, grow your followers on social media, and consequently, your wealth.

Don’t get me wrong, there are legitimate folks out there that I’ve discovered who are genuinely excited about sharing with others what they’ve learned about the industry, and who aren’t trying to sell you everything and anything under the sun that they can monetize. They want you to actually get better at your craft and have a better handle on how to improve yourself as an author and as a business owner, if that’s in fact what you are aiming for.

Anyway, all of that to say that, I’m generally turned off and irritated by the whole “Branding” and marketing thing in general.

Why should I have to try to trick or dazzle you with piffy catchphrases and slick photos to entice you to read my book? I’m an Iraq War Veteran who’s chronicled his metempsychosis from a placid, idealistic Christian to a disillusioned, bitter and often cantankerous Antiwar Humanist, with some love-sick vignettes for a little pick-me-up to break up the acrimony and heaviness! I’m the shit, man, just ask my neighbor Gary.

And that’s when I realized: this is why I need to figure out my “Brand”: my poetry isn’t meant for everyone, this project isn’t meant for everyone, and how unfortunate would it be if someone stumbled across it who was ready or prepared for it?

While writing this post, I’ve just realized that this was perhaps the first time I actually wrote down what I somehow assumed that others would just know about me. This is why I need handlers.

So, I think some big takeaways from this post should be that, yes, as some point you need to figure out who is and isn’t your audience for your book or art, and perhaps like me you will also discover what your “Brand” is as well in the process, because it’s very important to find the way you are going to present yourself to your potential audience and the to the world. Will my “Brand” likely shift and expand if I’m hoping to write something that doesn’t necessarily fit into the niche that I’m currently writing within? It sure as shit will, and hopefully my “Brand” will be something that works for me across the entire spectrum of artwork I intend to create, from poetry to children’s picture books.

Also, when you start searching around for ways to build your business and write that business plan, stay away from the smarmy, slick business men and women out there who insist that they can make you a bestseller over night or some such bullshit. Find some good people who, even if they have a subscription program or something that’s not too outrageous are doing it for the right reasons and are providing what you actually need as far as advice, resources and community goes, not a bunch of bullshit that a little extra googling for free could have gotten you to. It takes time and patience to avoid the pitfalls out there, and time and experience will tell I’m actually learning the right way to go about this whole process, but at least I’m trying and sharing what I’m learning along the way FOR FREE.

Poem: Letter to The War Presidents

I wrote this back in 2012, but I’ve decided to not update the introduction to it. Perhaps I will someday of this ever gets published somewhere, we shell see.

Given that it’s President’s Day today here in the States, I felt that it was fitting to share this, especially under our current political climate, where there are not only currently wars waged on foreign lands and the potential for further wars each and every day now, but also wars waged against naturalized citizens, the undocumented and the refugee, people’s of different faiths, colors and creeds, the poor, the LGBTQA community, and basically everyone who isn’t a White, rich Male in America right now.

Since my generation was born, nearly every U.S. President oversaw some major military operation in a foreign country, and to date, only two presidents during my generation didn’t serve within the military. This is a letter to every U.S. President that has overseen a war, yet had never seen war firsthand.

would you shed one drop of blood

for the gallons that we’ve given,

would you last one day in the conditions

we’ve spent years in?

would you be able to sign on the dotted line,

and follow the directives sent down from on high

when they went against your convictions of wrong and right?

would you be able to look your family in the face,

and tell them it was worth it,

when you can’t forgive yourself,

for the carnage you partook in?

You have not engaged your enemy at close range,

seen the sweat and fear upon his face,

before you forever erased him away.

My generation has done this and more,

some of us while questioning,

others while adoring,

nonetheless,

we are the children who you will bury,

without ever knowing what our level of sacrifice feels like.

would you give just one drop of bravery,

for the oceans we’ve turned red with everything in our veins

to bring an end to the bitter fruits not even your precious offspring will ever be allowed to taste?