I’ve done a lot of reading on how a person “should” go about the whole blogging process. Narrow your focus! Envision your audience! Know them! Their favorite things! Imagine which stores they shop at! Get granular and build your perfect reader!
The truth is, as far as audiences go, I kinda just want to chat with my peers about what’s going on in life and how hard this whole writing thing is. I also want to stop feeling guilty for having such a nice site and never using it for anything, but that’s a secondary motive.
I was just at Viable Paradise (VP23 AW YEAH), which is at least half of the impetus for cleaning the dust from my digital desk. It shook a lot of things loose in my brain, in a good way. A lot of things that I’m still unpacking, and probably will be for a while.
For example: I realized, before VP, I wasn’t really taking this writing thing seriously. It was something I did, yes, it was in fact something I’d built part of my identity around. But I had never looked at it as more than an identity marker. If that makes any kind of sense. It was something I did because I’ve always done it, something I was good at doing. I wrote, therefore I was a writer.
But the truth is that over the past few years I haven’t been writing all that much. I’d been wrestling with the whole idea that I had to write in order to be who I was, though I’ve only realized that in retrospect. I had to write because I had opportunities to publish that other people might not get. I had to write because who would I be if I didn’t?
There were in fact a few times where I looked at myself in the mirror and went “What if I just stopped?” I couldn’t answer the question. I didn’t want to answer the question. I knew no one would disown me if I stopped writing. I knew some people who would be disappointed, but there was no real risk to not doing anything. It would free up a lot of time I spent in self-flagellation with no word count to show for it.
That started to change when I picked up a few books by Mary Robinette Kowal, joined her Patreon, and started taking her online classes. I started to learn again, improve again, have something to engage with other than putting words on the page. It gave me back a little sliver of the identity I was afraid of losing, but it didn’t get me to produce. I was still firmly in the realm of You have to do this. Moreover, I was in the realm of You have to do this perfectly. Which meant I wasn’t really doing anything at all.
I came out of one of her weekend classes, a Short Story Intensive (totally worth taking, highly recommend) with a half-finished short story and two new writing partners. One of them knew about this thing called Viable Paradise, and suggested that the three of us apply together. For something like three months, we worked together preparing our applications, our writing samples, our cover letters. We all submitted together, and I got in.
At first I was kind of dismayed. Both my writing partners were incredibly encouraging, celebrating with me and for me when I wasn’t quite sure how to celebrate myself. But I felt like a fraud. I still didn’t write much, no matter how much I told myself I had to do it because otherwise why was I even going to VP?
Then I actually went, and it was one of the most amazing writing-related experiences I’ve had in my life. It was utterly intense, with daily lectures, homework assignments, one-on-ones with teachers and critiques with authors and peers.
There was also a talk on writing and mental health. One thing specifically hit me right between the eyes. Paraphrasing, but the essence is there: “You don’t have to do this. You want to do this, because you love to do this.”
VP gave me a lot of things, but probably one of the most important things it gave me was that.
So when I say I wasn’t taking writing seriously before VP, I guess I mean two things. The first: Writer was my identity, not my profession. I had pretty much lost the joy that brought me to the craft in the first place. Going through a week-long writing bootcamp forced me to evaluate what I was there for, and what I wanted to do with it. I was surrounded by people who had or hadn’t gotten publishing credits. People who all had more or less the same goal: improve and publish. It’s the and publish part that finally got through to me. Where did I want to be in a year, two years, five? Did I want to be a writer still dreaming about the book that would never be written, or did I want to be the writer in the trenches, working hard on something I loved because the work itself was worth it? That’s one of the other things VP gave me. The reminder that imperfection is still worth the effort.
The second thing it showed me, I should have spotted for myself. I was in a learning-based stasis. I was hiding from progress with my writing by taking lessons without applying them. Learning without practicing. Spinning my wheels. VP packed so much into me so fast that the options were improve or implode. It gave learning a purpose again. It gave a lot of things a purpose again.
This isn’t particularly well-organized. It’s also not where I thought this post was going to go. Probably I’ll be unpacking the shift in my mind from identity to profession for a while, sorting out my feelings and… well, a lot of things.
Really, this amounts to Part One of ???? “thank you VP” posts. My brain is still very, very full.