When I was kid, I read a lot.
I know a lot of people say that. There are people who go on at length about how they always carried books around with them and spent every free moment of their time buried in them, but I shit you not, I took it a step further. I was reading all the time. I got detention on multiple occasions for refusing to stop reading during class. I never did my homework or my chores because I was reading. I flatly refused to include myself in the real world at any time unless physically forced to. I had a problem.
Until one day…
In the sixth grade my school had a classroom Reading Contest. Each student was supposed to keep track and log every book they read, and the number of pages each book had. Whenever a book was finished, the number of pages each student had read would be put on a giant butcher-paper banner in the hallway, for all to see. As the end of the month, the classroom with the most pages read would win a free pizza party from the principal. (Mind you, this was roughly two decades before the Harry Potter days, so a book more than 90 pages long was was considered “college” level.)
As the contest was being announced, which I only half-heard because I was reading in class again, my teacher turned to me and said, “…and I expect you to win this for us, Jonathan.”
I looked up at my teacher, nodded, and closed my book. I didn’t open another book until the contest was over. I logged zero pages for my class. To this day, it is the most passive-aggressive go-fuck-yourself I have ever committed in my life.
I wasn’t reading great works of literature that was broadening my worldview. I wasn’t escaping into imaginary worlds that comforted me under the stress of an unforgiving childhood. I wasn’t addicted to the rush and wonder of drama and adventure.
I was just, very simply, telling the world to go away, you bother me. The instant the world saw value in what I was doing, I completely reversed course.
What I’m saying is that I was an asshole child. I’m owning that.
Whatever my motivation was that started this, it’s become a habit that I now have to actively overcome. For years I’ve wanted nothing more than to write/create my own works on my own time and not worry about a “career path” or a “revenue stream” or any of that bullshit that gets in the way of just barfing your brain onto a canvas whenever you feel like it. Kickstarter and Patreon have done wonders to open door for people to reach that. Fame and fortune is nice, sure, but most of us just want to be able to pay our rent and have a decent meal while we plod away on our latest brainchild with Netflix in the background. The all-or-nothing success model is slowly dying. It actually seems like I could see my dream come true in a reasonable amount of time if I just get the content out there to be seen.
So why am I not doing anything? The time is now! Opportunity is knocking! I have stacks of notebooks and a wall covered in sticky-notes waiting to be realized into fully formed stories and entertainment! I have 2 (count ’em, 2) half-written novels that my fans (read: mom) are waiting on pins and needles for me to finish! What the fuck am I waiting for?
It’s NaNoWriMo time, kids, and I have recently been told by the Job Creators that I don’t get to have a job any more. If there was ever a time for me to make all of my things happen and get my Real Career off the ground, now would be the time. So why did I spend all last week getting caught up on TV shows I haven’t watched this year? Why am I sitting here writing a blog post when I should be writing a new chapter? Why aren’t I riding the wave of my recent publishing success by submitting work to more publications?
I know every artist has this moment, where they reach a lull, or rut, or just need to take a break, and spend weeks beating themselves up over it. But when I do it, I can’t help but think back to that month in the sixth grade where I took the one thing that put me ahead of the pack and smashed it, for no reason. What if I do that to myself again, and again, and again? What if I don’t get out of this rut until all the opportunity has passed? What if, for some reason, I can’t handle being anywhere but on Square One? Am I going to sit here and do nothing until all the work I’ve done in the last 4 years is dried up and I have to start over?
I’m gonna say “no,” in response to all that. I wrote all this as a way to sort out my thoughts and feelings (as we writers are known to do) and as I read back on that I can’t help but think, “what a whiny bitch.” It really is ridiculous that I’m actually afraid of these things, when all I have to do is decide to fix it. I know what needs to be done, and I know how to do it, all I have to do is get to work. OR, if not, to not beat myself up on the days I decided not to. I’m not a fucking robot, after all. I am allowed to take some Me Time once and a while. I mean, I’m suddenly unemployed for the first time in 4 years, that’ll put anyone in a funk for a while.
For now, I’m going to take the rest of today off. I’m going to spend some time with my friends, enjoy my life, and my freedom. I’m not going to worry about money, or social networking, or word counts, politics, or any of the things that I have a unending roller-coaster of a love/hate relationship with. I’m going to do it all on my terms, because in the end that is the only way it will get done.
Smile Naked, Everyone.
(Or don’t. I’m not your boss.)