How I almost forgot why I write (and how I got back on track)

It’s easy to lose sight of why you write. For about two years now, I’ve worked full-time as a freelance writer and social media marketer, penning corporate blogs, articles for SEO specialists, the occasional news story, website copy, and whatever else people will pay me to write. I’ve done freelance work on the side for many years, but that switch in autumn 2014 was a big plunge into icy cold water.

It hasn’t always been easy. The money mostly sucks, the workload is hot and cold, the guilt can be crushing, people often don’t want to pay you or they will try to scam you, you have to operate like a small business (which is antithetical to why you write in the first place), and so on and so forth.

So yeah, you get caught up in chasing jobs and chasing checks, it becomes easy to lose sight of why you wanted to write in the first place.

Enter the wonderful people behind Wyrd Words, an annual writing workshop held in the Midwest for a small group of hand-picked people (and totally unrelated to the Norse and Germanic stuff that comes up when you Google the term).

This year, I was inexplicably invited to take part.

Inexplicably because the people I was surrounded by were accomplished, talented, kind, and did I mention talented? People nominated for prestigious SF awards, people who have been in the best magazines in the speculative fiction genre, people with book deals, people with fucking awesome novels in progress. I’m just some schmuck from the ‘burbs of New Jersey. Thom Yorke lyrics quickly sprang to mind.

The workshop was five days of us critiquing one anothers manuscripts, digging into the mechanics and what worked and what didn’t, trying to find the heart of these stories and trying to lay bare the flaws that may be dragging them down. It was an amazing retreat with amazing people in an amazing location, yes, but it was also work. A lot of it.

Yet it was also the kind of work I enjoy more than almost anything, and the kind of work I do far too little of these days. I brought an older manuscript, a dystopian SF novel I’ve been tinkering with for many years without managing to find a way to make it stick the landing. Not my proudest work, nor perhaps the best showcase of my ability, but workshops aren’t for impressing people, they are for getting shit done, right?

We got shit done. This group confirmed many of my major concerns about the manuscript and brought a few others to my attention, while ALSO nudging me in the direction I hope to take it with the kind of insights and observations you can only get from a group of wildly talented people.

If you think having your work picked apart is difficult and exhausting, you’re wrong. It’s invigorating. It reminded me why I love the creative process. It also showed me that my writing priorities had gotten a little askew.

Got to pay bills. Got to keep the work coming in. Got to stay focused. All true. I’m a responsible adult and father and husband, after all, and despite what some people think — “Oh, you get to be home all day. How nice!” — this freelancing thing is a job with all that having a job entails, and then some. But that doesn’t mean I can’t prioritize in a way that allows me to be more productive on a creative level in addition to on a professional level. Thus far on this journey into life as a freelance writer, I’ve always done client work before anything else. Have to do some pieces on pet care or home contractors or whatever? First priority. Always. That just seemed like the way things should be handled.

Often, by the time I did that work and banged through my day’s marketing work, my writing fuel for the day was spent. When you’ve already hammered out 2,000 words on Whatever People Are Paying You For That Day, it’s hard to switch gears and do another 2,000 — only this time you have to be creative, write in a distinctive voice, and all the other stuff that comes with writing fiction that won’t suck.

Basically, I thought working from home would free me up to pursue more of my own writing projects, but experiments with self-published Mad Men and Walking Dead books aside, that hasn’t been the case. I’m just not writing as much creative material as I’d like, something I lamented earlier this year.

One of my workshop colleagues suggested I write my own stuff FIRST and then switch to client stuff later in the day. “The articles for your clients probably aren’t as difficult to write, right?”

She’s correct.

I’ve tended to be a night writer when it comes to fiction, but why should that be? Writing only “when inspired” is bullshit, frankly. I’ve said before that writer’s block is bullshit, too. You can always write if you train yourself to. It might SUCK, but you can (and should) maintain forward momentum. As they say, ninety percent of writing is revision, anyway. You have to keep going. So why wait until the evening to write fiction when I can save the evenings for client work? There is no good answer to that question.

My point is, I kind of fumbled my priorities a bit. A huge part of why I took the freelance plunge was as simple as wanting peace of mind and a good quality of life. For some, “quality of life” means having the money to get the next cool thing. For me, it means having some inner peace, not being beholden to the clock or a rigid schedule, and pursuing things that give me personal satisfaction while also managing to keep a roof over our head. That’s a rare thing for someone to have, so if it was within my grasp, well, I felt like I should grab for it.

The “pursuing things that give me personal satisfaction” had started to elude me.

The Wyrd Words workshop reminded me why I want to write. Why I need to write. It reminded me of some of my big picture goals and reminded me of the things I need to do if I’m ever going to accomplish them.

For that alone, it was a tremendous experience.

That I also spent time with a group of fantastic people, many of whom I’m sure will remain friends, is just a big, thick, gooey layer of icing on top of an already delicious cake.

Going forward, I aim to write, to create, to improve. I also aim to do a better job of prioritizing myself and the larger goals I’ve set for myself. Maybe get the hell off Facebook for good. Get my nose into prose. Get working. Get building. Start creating the works that are aching to spill out of me.

That, at least, is the goal.

So now the work begins.

Thanks, Wyrd Words.