For you artist types, and web nerds, that’s darkish greyish green in HEX colour. For the mathematically fascinated, it’s the 43517th prime. For the lateral thinkers amongst us, that’s the number of minutes in a common year. A year that also marks a roughly hewn milestone for me – in more ways than one. In about a week or so, I will have had this blog for a year, been a stay-at-home Dad for longer and also completed the first year of my writing life.
By this time next week it will have been about 18 months since formally deciding that the big corporate world was probably not the best place for me. Thinking back, it was and still is a scary decision and whenever the dark ooze of worry and disillusionment (internal critic piss off) starts bubbling to the surface, I wonder if it really was a good thing to do or just another in an ever increasing list of my life faux pas. My level of concern on this particular decision is inversely proportional to the health of my bank account and I can honestly say that the bank manager is not planning to call me for any new investment opportunities any time soon. Periods of lacklustre income generation have never really worried me too much and I always attributed this lack of concern to my confidence in my ability to perform certain sought after business and technology related tasks for pay… Unfortunately none of those same skills have any baring on my newly chosen ‘profession’ or financial potential and that is damn scary. Without my high flying, corporate ladder climbing wizz of a wonderful wife (WoWW), I would have given up and gone back to a suit and tie long ago. With the state of the economy (and world) I still wonder if I am being a fool irresponsibly following my dream like this instead of shoring up the nest egg for hard times.
One word of advice to men who swap business lunches for school pick ups… There comes a time when you will feel emasculated by not being the owner or having to check with the budget committee about buying a new angle grinder, generator, fridge… I still struggle with it every now and again – especially when some customer service rep tells me that I can’t request a change to some arb service because I am not the registered account holder…. It gets my goat until I realise that women have been having the same issues looking after the homestead since the dawn of time so I suck it up, readjust the junk to a less sensitive position and move on. If you don’t think you are man enough to handle that part of the role reversal then be very careful. Very.
Next week also informally marks almost two years since I decided to become a stay-at-home Dad and after some initial hiccups that just required me to take a chill pill or two, I have zero regrets. The upside of spending so much time with your kids is infinitely worth the hassles of having to deal with the occasional illogical oestrogen fuelled school decisions, play-date co-ordination and hours of waiting for your son to learn the next judo throw. Not having to worry about some 21 year old au-pair forgetting to fetch the kids or forcing my 5 year old to go to after-care till nightfall is such a relief that I can feel my soul relaxing when I realise I should not have to deal with that again. Somehow I have slotted pretty well into the role and although I don’t meet the rest of the mom’s for the weekly (or monthly) coffee gossip – sorry ladies, I just can’t do it – I seem to have them convinced that I am a laid back, no stress, strict but fun kinda Dad – Hah hah. My kids have figured out what gets me annoyed (losing bloody school clothes, ice-cream on the back seat) and have come to terms with my seemingly draconian rules (no play-dates on school days and if you sign up for Tennis you have to go to practises) that we get along very well. My son still tries to beat me up all the time but he no longer turns demonic when I wake him up in the morning and even cuddles up to me on the couch sometimes. I’ve finally figured out his moods and how he likes to do things in his own time and what he wants on his sandwiches for school. My daughter sprays my deodorant on one of my clean t-shirts and cuddles it when she sleeps at night and there is nothing quite like a hug, that little face looking up, chin digging in just below my ribcage, sparkling blue eyes pleading “Please please please Daddy can I go for a sleepover!” All things considered, if it weren’t’ such a worry about money and wanting to become a successful novelist, I could think of a thousand worse jobs than looking after the kids all day.
Which brings me to writing. Enter stage left: doubt, fear, apprehension. Enter stage right: procrastination, excuses, distractions. Audience seated and craning their necks to see the author… Where am I? I’m the one holding the million candle spotlight in a darkened recess high on the catwalk above the stage. It’s a challenge but I somehow keep the blinding beam expertly trained on those perfect embodiments of my thoughts. How am I really doing with my dream? Lets consider the facts.
I have about 80k words of a book I started at Nano’12 and have made such a confusing mess that I have to start again – so much for the pantser approach. If nothing else it has made me realise that that I need to do a lot more outlining and planning with my work – maybe not excessive planning but far more than I am doing… The effort is also not an entire loss: I still like the world and ideas that I have created, it’s just that my learning curve has been so steep over the last twelve months that I believe that what I wrote all that time ago is far worse than I thought at the time and I have made so many mistakes of every conceivable type that rewriting a chapter here or there will never do it . My level of understanding (and skill) of the craft has improved (I hope) so much that I have to actively stop myself taking a virtual match to the bytes of my previous efforts. I am not sure if this is my first official “trunk” / “bottom drawer” book that will never see the light of day but I have a sneaky suspicion it is. I suppose it’s similar to anything creative that takes years to master… Learning how to use a pencil to shade an orb is relatively easy and quick when compared to actually being able to draw an acceptable photo realistic representation of that gnarled old beggar portrait you took a year ago. In some ways, learning what I am doing wrong has been the largest stumbling block on my road to becoming a writer – just as you think you are on a roll you realise you have made another silly beginner mistake or what you thought was a good twist on an original idea is just a staid old cliché bundled in sheep’s wool that you were too naive to realise when you thought of it.
I also have about 15k of an unrelated outline – yah, 15k in just the outline – that shows some real promise but is unlike anything that I have ever read or had previously shown much interest in – it sounds like a good enough story but I am pretty scared of attempting it because it’s so outside my box of experience that I fear I am going to make a total hash of what may actually deserve better – or at least someone more capable (hopefully a future self). I also have plenty of ideas and nuggets of things to include in any number of possible scenes and stories but other than filling notebooks, they are not really worth much on their own and have all probably been thought of before by far more skilled authors.
I have blocked out 9am to 12pm every day on my calendar for writing but I seldom stick to the schedule. 6 months ago I managed at least a hour or two of ‘real writing’ a day – usually 1000 words plus. Now I am lucky if I get that a week. A lot of it is directly related to my first failed book (with all its associated beat downs) and building up the courage to start again but a lot of it is not. Sometimes I manage a blog post, other times I research travel distances in medieval times or work on some world building or scribble away ideas in my notebook but I am not actively progressing with the writing. I go through periods of inactivity where I am overwhelmed by doubt at what I am doing or depressed by the fact that I may never get anywhere and fail at this pursuit of a dream. These are the kinds of things that I know I just have to push through and to some degree I expected them to rear their ugly misshapen heads at regular intervals. A surprising thing I have discovered is that my writing productivity seems to be horribly affected by my state of general happiness – I find it incredibly difficult to write if I am not feeling happy. I can’t even write “unhappy” scenes when I am unhappy and it’s frustrating. Everything seems to grind to a halt till I am feeling more upbeat. The cause can be something simple (and potentially self-induced) like worrying about something I have zero control over such as the outcome of an x-ray of my daughters floating rib or the aftermath of an argument with my wife that should realistically not be lingering as long as I have made it. This happiness factor is new in terms of understanding my writing and I doubt I even thought about it being an obstacle to my ability to churn out words on paper a year ago. Aren’t writers meant to be unhappy, grumpy old codgers or Franzen types hunched away over a desk somewhere? It’s been a year of particularly odd discoveries, I can tell you.
On a positive side and something that always gives me some hope is that unless you are some exceptional savant previously undiscovered, becoming a writer is not an overnight thing. There are successful authors (in my interpretation of the moniker) that have multiple first attempt novels hidden away in dusty old trunks that they say they would not dare show anyone, there are still others, now famous, that quit books 80k words in when they realise they have made fundamental mistakes that can’t be easily fixed. Some books take years to write (especially if you are not a romance novelist) and some authors have written for years before ever publishing anything worth mentioning. All of this points to one simple fact, I still have time…. Rapidly falling grains of sand, but the top half is still more than half full. I am also miles from the million word mark – I have not even reached halfway yet. I’m but a foetus when it comes to writing skill and experience. I may not find these same facts positive a year from now, but it does give me some “reverse psychology” type hope at the moment.
I have also not yet found my voice. I’m not under any illusion that I am going to find it easily but I honestly do not think that I am any nearer to discovering it than I was a year ago. I have hope… I figure it will show itself when it thinks I am ready.
And how is this blog a year on?
Surprising is probably the word I would chose. I did not think that I would have lasted this long. Sure I have not managed any high volumes – I could probably up the number of posts I make a week without driving viewers away in boredom. I have not received amazing numbers of likes or comments but according to WordPress, I get regular visitors – about 200 odd, counting the various publicizing options. What I write about seems to interest a few of you stalwarts and I just wanted to say thanks for visiting and I am glad I do not seem to be boring you all too much. I could have included something more topical or at least deep and meaningful but I keep pulling back and trashing the drafts when I think I am beginning to sound like some way out weirdo on a rant. Call it self-censorship at a time when I am not sufficiently confident enough to stick my neck out a little too far. I may attempt a few more stimulating or thought provoking posts in the future but I can’t promise anything. I may chicken out.
There have been many ups and downs with regards to posts success. The worst for me has been the realisation that an innocent post I did about my daughters party was generating far too many hits and some quick investigation into Google Webmaster tools revealed that it was simply because there are an unbelievable number of sick people in this world. I used a particular word (totally acceptable and innocent but not going to repeat it here) to describe her age group and this was generating a silly number of views compared to the rest of the site. Turns out my page was coming up in Google results for some seriously unpleasant search strings. I have taken the page down (and removed it from Googles database) because of this and I must admit that while I always knew the Net had a dark side I had not realised just how dark it really was or how close that darkness could really get. It makes me glad I decided early on to keep private info off this blog.
The most visited page of the year is a short article on personality tests – seems like a lot of people really liked it – or at least liked the idea of doing a personality test that I linked to from it. The most liked posts are easily the Inspiring ones – Art I put up 9 months ago is still being viewed and I am not sure why the snow leopard is such a hit – I like it but not that much… it’s way more visited than any other piece of art on the site. The least were the brainteasers… I removed those pretty quick.
It has been an interesting year for me…. It has not lived up to my unrealistic hopes and aspirations but it could have been worse than it was. It’s always easier to remember the negatives but so long as I am optimistic, I figure a little knocking down just helps keep things in perspective. Perhaps I will have moved on to another marker by the roadside come this time next year.
Thanks for visiting – I’ve said this before, in an odd way, the few moments you spend here reading my drivel is a little like a little Zoloft dose. Hope you will renew another years prescription.
Milestone image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/dun_deagh/,
Hourglass from http://www.flickr.com/photos/riebart/,
Stage-light from http://www.flickr.com/photos/11250735@N07/