Livejournal.com used to suck up a ton of my time. I spent days, nights, and weekends on the site, writing up incessantly boring treatises on emotional fallout, movie reviews, and experimental journaling, not to mention the usual mundanity of life (such as what I ate that day and what celebrity I found attractive that week).
Looking back at the beginnings of my online journal, one would never have guessed that I would eventually begin to turn essay-writing into a career. And in fact, it’s something I still struggle with (those of you reading this probably still don’t know who I am). However, if you followed my progress on Livejournal, you’d see someone who eventually wants to write more, and write better.
I never even knew I loved writing until years after I began writing on the site. Eventually, I built my own crappy little webpage, and began writing there. Since then, I’ve had dozens of blogs, writing things both longform and short form, yet it never occurred to me that I should really be improving my craft and maybe start doing it full time.
That all changed with an essay I wrote on how much technology has changed in my lifetime. I used to have an 8086 PC, a Commodore PC-10 III that was one of the early IBM clones. I used that (and later an Epson 286) to get online to local BBSes and, eventually, the pre-web Internet. I had an email address in 1992, just from one of the BBSes I was on, and I saw some really interesting technologies come and go during my early years on the Internet. It turned out this was a fascinating topic for a lot of people who read that essay, so I figured, “why not turn this into a book?”
Over the course of the next year, I did just that. I worked day and night on that book, every day, before and after work (and sometimes during lunchbreaks, too). I decided to self-publish With a Net: An Internet Memoir, not wanting to bother with the hassle of trying to find a publisher and an agent.
To date, that book has sold a whopping twenty copies or so.
Was it a waste of time? Absolutely not. I learned a lot about writing a book, about editing (never edit your own work; you’ll always be too close to it), publishing (I’ll pursue regular publishing channels next time), and about how to accept failure (gracefully, for it’s a teaching tool).
I also gained a new appreciation for just how much I enjoyed writing. I didn’t know that I loved it as much as I did while writing that book. And when Medium came along as a new publishing platform where I could gain some exposure for myself, I jumped at the chance to write there, becoming one of several early users before it was open to the public. I started writing. I began with a personal essay, about how I got inspired to begin losing weight and improving my life because of a girl. But it was my next piece, “The Thorniness of Trust,” which garnered some attention. It got picked as a Medium’s Editor’s Choice, and was widely read and shared on Twitter and other aggregation sites. This is what gave me lots of confidence and reiterated to me that this is what I should be doing, not fixing computers in a retail store all day.
This was my passion, this was what I wanted to do.
But it’s never that easy. You can’t always get paid for what you have a passion to do. And so you have to have continue that bill-paying job, keep clocking in and out so you can feed yourself and have a roof over your head.
Nonetheless, I continued writing profusely on Medium, taking risks and trying new things. I wrote a piece called “On a Sunday,” chronicling the mundane-yet-profound stages of a Sunday for me. It didn’t get as much attention as I’d have liked (it’s one of my own personal favorites of my own work), but another piece I did, “Will McAvoy Isn’t Real, but He Should Be,” became shared and recommended many times over.
All this is to say that I should have kept going, and never stopped writing. But then I did, because I moved in with a girl.
It’s truly not her fault that it happened. Life just got in the way. She has two kids, and we both worked hard and had a busy life, and it was extremely difficult to fit in writing and exercise and so many other things I was used to in my bachelor life. So the posts on Medium stopped, the work on my novel stopped, and I would only take cursory looks at both periodically, but couldn’t spend any real time on them.
And she, bless her heart, did try for me. When we moved in to a new apartment together in Syracuse, her birthday gift to me was a completely new office. She got me a beautiful new desk and chair, and painted and decorated a room for me in the apartment. I was absolutely excited about it. It was just the realities of life and bill-paying jobs and kids that kept me from this passion.
I eventually left that relationship (for unrelated reasons), and moved back to Providence, where I am surrounded by creativity and inspiring people. But getting back into writing is something I don’t find easy. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s the joy of reconnecting with so many friends and spending time doing that, or maybe it’s that I don’t have personal space yet to call my own.
What I do know is that when I make myself sit down and write (as I’m doing now), I feel the itch, and putting words down on the screen (or paper, as I sometimes but not often do) scratches that itch. I can sense a tangible passion burning in my brain and in my fingers, which begs the question why, if it’s such a passion, do I not give in to the urge all the time?
It’s easy to get sidetracked. TV, Facebook, gaming—these are all things that make it easy to put off doing what it is we really want to do. Our whole selves are resistant to change. Even if there’s something you desperately want to do, your psyche can easily find reasons not to do it, when it’s so much easier to remain in the staid and stolid existence that you’re used to.
But life improvement doesn’t work that way. You have to want it. And part of improving your life, part of improving my life, is to find the times we’re succumbing to our normal habits and break them when we need to.
A couple of years ago, I was determined to do just that. I went into therapy, and I determined to “burn my life down.” I wanted to take every thing, person, and activity that wasn’t serving me in a positive way and toss it out the window, replacing them with elements that would make me happier. I got rid of cable, I wrote every day, I removed people from my life that were introducing drama, and I changed my outlook on life. I began eating better, exercising more, and finding social contentedness.
But there’s no overcoming these kinds of obstacles to happiness and then calling it a day. The only chance of overcoming these things for good is to keep at it every day. Sure, we can form new habits, but what no one told me is how easy it is for the old habits to come back, slowly creeping their way back in when I’m not paying attention. And over the course of a year and a half, I ended up right back where I started.
So now what?
It’s time to burn it all down again. It’s time to remember what I’m living for and what I want from life in return. Then I’ve got to buckle down and make it happen. Life isn’t going to do it for me. It won’t do it for you, either.
Let’s burn it down, and see what we’re left with. I think we’ll like what we’re going to find.