Things have been a little quiet around here. Let me see if I can explain why:
I don’t want to imply that when you have a small human to take care of, you can’t get anything else done, but I (at least) tend to let non-essential systems atrophy. Navel-gazing (which, I will be honest, is often what this blog is about) drops off tremendously, twitter accumulates a cobweb or two, the elliptical machine gathers some dust, our front yard…
My god, guys; the front yard. Seriously. If it weren’t for the pallet of wine-in-a-box I sent the planning committee last Christa McAuliffe Day, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to paper our family room in letters from the HOA.
None of that implies I’ve had nothing going on. On the contrary, I’ve been a busy little beaver, even on the internet, just not here. Contracted writing gigs. The slow push towards book publication (more on that soon(tm)). Basically, since I don’t find I have the mental bandwidth for rumination and musing aloud, I focus on concrete writing tasks meant to ensure that I’m hitting the keyboard every day. For instance, I’ve been writing articles for a number of gaming sites and, when said sites are inevitably swept under by a wave of spambots and turned into the internet equivalent of a Brood Mother from Dragon Age, I come back to my gaming related blog and write stuff there.
Indirectly, that’s what I wanted to talk about.
Four months ago, as the little man started to release us from the iron grip of Infant Sleep Schedules, I took a look at what I’d been writing since his arrival and found that examples were a little thin on the ground.
“I need to get my fingers back on a keyboard,” I thought to myself. Then I sighed, because the very idea seemed kind of exhausting. What to write?
“Baby steps,” I replied to myself, then giggled madly, because… you know… ‘baby’… and I have a baby… and…
Still needed a lot more sleep at that point, I think.
Anyway, what I decided to do was just write about what I was doing in this MMO I was playing. That’s it. I found the situation I and a couple of my friends had put ourselves in to be kind of compelling and interesting and dammit even if everyone else in the world thought it was boring as hell, I didn’t.
That was the key, really; it interested me, so I wrote about it without needing to be prodded. Hell, it was something I looked forward to every day and as a result, I was putting a thousand or fifteen hundred or two thousand or sometimes three thousands words down, every day.
What I didn’t worry about at any point was is someone going to read this? Hell, I assumed that no one was reading it (except Kate, who always reads everything, because she’s wonderful). It was always kind of a surprise when anyone I knew mentioned it. One friend who didn’t play took the time to tell me that he enjoyed the stories, even if he had no intention of checking out the game. De went so far as to try to figure out why I liked the topic so much that I was writing about it every day, because it was curious.
In any case, that didn’t happen that much, and honestly, I didn’t care. Throughout the whole thing, I’ve been writing for me. Partly to remember; partly to just be writing something; mostly to entertain myself.
And a funny thing started happening.
People started leaving comments. Asking questions. Asking for more. Telling me that I wasn’t allowed to stop, and in fact needed to post more frequently.
That was kind of nice.
Then, a few days ago, I logged into a website that — if you do the sort of things that I do in that game I’ve been writing about — is pretty much the single most important website to have on speed dial.
And at the top of the page, before any of the important stuff that you actually come to the site for, there’s a note that says “Hey, if you’ve got a few minutes, you should really go read the posts being written over at this blog here,” and it was me they were linking to.
Easiest example of what that was like would be if you were really really into knitting, and you blogged about it, and one day you went to Ravelry and found a link to your little blog on the front page.
Now, I’m not telling you any of this to brag (because that would be… incredibly ridiculous) — the point here is that I wrote the thing I wanted to write and (observing the constraints of the topic) wrote it well.
I didn’t network. I didn’t “promote my brand.” I didn’t “find my audience”; I did a thing I enjoyed, and an audience found me.
Are We Even in the Zipcode of your Point?
NaNoWriMo is here once again, and a lot of writers are revving up their engines for another fifty thousand word sprint. I’m watching it all happen with what is, for me, an uncharacteristic silence, because it’s an interesting thing to observe. A lot of excitement. A lot of nervous energy.
A lot of people wondering if what they’ll write is going to be marketable.
Chuck Wendig will be the first to tell you that writer’s write, and that is absolutely true, but I want to point out what they don’t do, so they have time to write.
They don’t seek their audience. They don’t fuck around with SEO. They don’t network.
Alright: yes they do, but not while they are writing.
I don’t want to make it sound like professional writers can ignore that kind of stuff but, in my opinion, thinking about any of that (or, god forbid, if what you’re working on it “saleable”) while you are supposed to be writing is the worst. possible. thing.
When I was a kid, I used to go fishing with my dad and granddad. (I was generally terrible at it, because I over-thought it, but if I remembered to bring a book along to read I usually ended up catching the biggest fish, because I left the line alone.) One of the things that always used to confound me about river fishing in a boat was the tie-line. It didn’t matter how I pulled that line into the boat in the morning, or how I coiled it up, or how well I’d avoid disturbing that coil during the day — when we got back to the dock in the afternoon, that fucking rope would be tangled up.
I would pull at it, and frown at it, and start to work through the knots and twists, but whenever it seemed like I was making any headway, I’d look at the parts of the pile I wasn’t working on and realize that the whole situation had only gotten worse.
The closer we got to the dock, the faster I’d work (because tying up was the one cool boat-thing I got to do), and the worse it would get.
Then we’d pull up about ten feet off the dock, and my dad would look down at this colossal fuck-up I’d managed to assemble in less than ten minutes.
“Just throw it all in the water,” he said.
“Throw it in and let it float there for a minute,” he’d continue. “It’ll sort itself out.”
So I did.
And it did.
That’s what I’ve found in writing. Do the thing you want to do. Do it as well as you can. But don’t get ahead of what you’re doing and start thinking about what this thing will do.
It has to be before it can do anything.
Throw it out in the water. It’ll sort itself out.