Another Social Media Break

Another Social Media Break

It’s that time of the year: time for my annual electronic equivalent of retreating to a cabin in the woods by taking a social media break. I’m not sure if it will be a break from all social sites, or just Facebook, but this afternoon I said, “Time for the annual Facebook break!” I logged out and removed the app from my phone.

I’m not sure about other social sites right now because I can filter Twitter to see only what I want to see. (I do that on Facebook, but Facebook insists on still showing me things I’ve requested be hidden). Google+ and Tumblr are free of drama, politics, and stress for me — places I can visit and leave refreshed. So we’ll see about those other sites as the week moves along.

The Problem with Facebook

I don’t know why it just seems to be Facebook for me, but it seems there’s usually a topic of the week that gets discussed — and it’s often discussed with a certain angst.

  • One week, talk about how depression kills. Then: “Robin Williams was a coward!” [Battles ensue.]
  • Another week, people doing the ice bucket challenge. Then: “This is why you are a dummy-head for doing the ice bucket challenge!” [Battles ensue.]
  • This week, people talking about a bunch of nude photos of female celebrities leaked online and shared. Then: “If they didn’t want the photos out there, they shouldn’t have taken them!” [Battles ensue.]

I know these same arguments are happening on Twitter, Tumblr, and Google Plus, but I only follow publishers, photographers, artists, and other people who tend to talk about positive things and creating work they love.

So I can’t say it’s Facebook’s problem exclusively. But I can say it’s the only network that keeps presenting things in my feed I’ve requested to not see.

“Are You Crazy?”

Most people I know understand why I take these annual breaks, but there are always a few who can’t fathom giving up the social sites they frequent. Those who use social sites to promote their work, and who know I do the same thing, usually ask:

“But doesn’t that affect your numbers?!”

I’m not a huge fan of tracking things; if you know me, you know I just like making the things I like and if people look, read, or listen — great. If not, it’s not the end of the world. For me, the most satisfying part is in the creation. This isn’t to say I don’t like having a following…especially as that following keeps growing.

When I take a break from one or all social sites and don’t say, “New podcast!” “New story,” or “New video,” it’s reflected in fewer downloads. I’m not there to remind people to check out whatever new thing I’ve created, so fewer people check out what I’m doing. When I think back to every year I’ve taken a break, all the way back to the 101-day break that kicked it all off (and what I learned in taking that break), there is an initial fear of losing the following I have. It’s not long, though, before I remember the sense of peace that comes from stepping away.

Fear of Missing Out

Fear of missing out is enough of a thing that we’ve turned FOMO into a buzzword. With each break I’ve taken, someone has asked me if it bothers me that I miss out on what’s going on — as though nothing happens outside of social media.

Even during the breaks from all social sites, I still read and replied to blogs. I still saw people. There was email. Those closest to me knew how to get in touch if there’s an emergency (or if they just wanted to hang out or say hello). So what do I really miss, outside of the rage of the day or week?

[It didn’t even hit me until just now that there is a midterm election coming up, which means all the people who rarely/never spoke with me in high school (but requested to be friends on Facebook because, I assume, they think I share in their view that our current president is a Muslim lizard man who will impose Sharia law on us before 2016), will be out in full force soon. I won’t mind missing that!]

I may miss out on some good news along the way, some funny memes, and other things, but what is gained from these breaks is something that makes me a better writer.

Writing is What It’s Really All About…

For me, Jonathan Franzen’s words about electronic distractions holds weight:

It’s doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

I write best when I disconnect from distractions. I also write more when I disconnect from distractions.

I started the novel I’m working on almost three years ago. With a life, day job, weekly podcast, other writing, and additional things I do, my goal for a solid draft of a new book is every three years. I’m on pace to make my self-imposed deadline if I disconnect and focus.

So that’s what I’m going to do…

Not Everything Needs to Be Monetized

Not Everything Needs to Be Monetized

My wife makes costumes like this:

cfgriffith.com - Chemise a la Reine

And this:

cfgriffith.com - Wood Elf

And even this:

cfgriffith.com - Badass Elf

More at cfgriffith.com

She does art like this:

cfgriffith.com - King Thror and Carc

And this:

cfgriffith.com - Gloin Locket

More at cfgriffith.deviantart.com

When people see what she does, the first words that often leave their mouths?

“You should do this for money!”

Monetize It!

The Internet is a wonderful thing. My wife and I think it’s so cool that there are people making livings by creating and selling things online. Some make supplemental income; some make more from home than people starting up large companies with their MBAs.

It’s all great, but…the obsession with monetizing everything can get very old, very fast. There often comes with the attitude that everything should be monetized a sense that someone shouldn’t do something solely for the love of creating.

Why not make money doing that thing you love, right? [Putting aside that people are allowed to do what they want to do for their own reasons] because…some people believe there is no better reason to make something than simply because one enjoys creating. For many, there’s more pleasure in the act of just making things than making things and then spending all that extra time turning it into a business.

Not everything that can make money has to make money.

The Downside of Monetizing Things

I blog, podcast, and do other things online. I sometimes attend tech groups and speak at tech groups about making things. The meetups that seem to draw the most attendees are those promising to show others how to monetize what they are doing. I’ll go as far as saying there is a strange obsession with monetizing things online. I’ve seen well-known bloggers come out and say:

“I’m about to embark on the project that means more to me than anything I’ve ever done…this is from my heart!”

Two months later, when it’s not making money, they bail on this thing they claim meant more to them than anything ever before. Maybe I’m wired differently, but if you have a project that means more to you than anything else in your heart — ever — you work on that project whether it makes money or not!

If you don’t, all I can assume is that your whole, “It means more than anything to me!” was a marketing ploy, and you’ve destroyed all trust I had in you and the things you make.

An [Often] Fast Path to Mediocre

I’ve seen great content become soured in a race for more ad revenue or a larger audience. As a podcaster, I often see people talk about how some shows they do get more listens than many of the shows they love doing. Because the thought of money is the driving force behind what’s being done, good shows about topics most dear to the hearts of the creators become like so many other shows that do little more than aggregate content.

Suddenly, we have another run-of-the-mill tech or entertainment podcast with little to no original content. Blogs are written whether there’s something good to write about or not because it’s a numbers game in hope of ad clicks. Over time, what started out as good content often becomes mediocre (at best) because content is created out of a panic to keep money coming in.

Worse than all that, sometimes the people behind the sites can’t get through the line at a grocery store or stand beside you at a urinal in a bathroom without giving you their pitch.

Desperation, frequency, and volume are not endearing traits.

Back to my Wife (and Why She Does Art Only for Herself These Days)

My wife understands that in its own way, “You should do this for money!” is a compliment — people see what she does and they feel it’s worthy of being paid for. It’s strange, though, because the compliments often come with a tone that my wife has never considered making money with her art.

She has…

I won’t go into great detail, but I know many artists whose art jobs become this:

  1. They end up on a contract for something they don’t really want to draw or paint.
  2. They work through the contract, getting approval for all stages of work.
  3. Near the end, someone higher up says, “I want something totally different!”
  4. The artist says, “Pay out on this contract, and I’ll write up a new contract for what your big boss wanted all along, but never mentioned to you.”
  5. Big boss gets wind of this and shouts: “I’m not paying for something I don’t want to use!”
  6. The original contract is either paid out and the work never used or now the artist is spending more time and money trying to collect what’s owed to them than they are creating art.

I know this is not the case for every artist. I have friends who are artists who do their own thing and make very strong livings doing what they love. But for every artist like that, there are more artists I know trying to collect on past due accounts or illustrating licensed content and other things they don’t enjoy creating, solely for the paycheck.

It’s Sew Easy

It’s not unheard of that my wife gets email from strangers asking her to sew them something. My wife passes by on offers to sew things for others, and some people find that perplexing. But why would someone who loves sewing their own things, on their own schedule, drop that to sew 40 of the same bonnets on an in-house assembly line when that is not what they find any pleasure in doing? (Or may not have room to do without turning several rooms into workspaces and be constantly reminded that they are not sewing what they want?)

Just like we have artist friends who live a life of nightmares collecting on accounts, seamstress friends of my wife have been ridiculed when they quote a price for something that’s deemed too high in the mind of the requester who doesn’t understand that the cost of material alone is twice what they are willing to pay — never mind the 60+ hours of labor! If fabric runs $250 for a gown and you’re putting over a week into the project, the last thing you want is to deal with an angry person online, screaming that you wouldn’t do it for $75!

It can be great making a living doing what you love, but it’s not always easy. Worse, it can make the pleasure of something you once loved a thing of the past.

You’re Crazy!

There are things I will only do for myself, solely for the joy it brings me. I once juggled for money, but…never again. I’ve written magazine and newspaper articles that made more in one piece than almost all fiction I’ve written combined. I won’t rule out certain articles in the future, because I’ve enjoyed the pieces I’ve written, but when it comes down to limited time and making guaranteed money with another article or writing another chapter of a novel that may never see publication, I choose the novel. And not just any novel: I write what I want to write, regardless of what happens when it’s done.

A handful of years ago, a friend in a position to pass along my second novel to the kinds of people who can make publication a reality offered to pass along anything I wanted that suited the genre. The book, the first in a series, is something I had fun writing, but there are other things I want to write even more. When some people heard I passed on that offer, the replies were a resounding:

You’re crazy!

I disagree; to have accepted this generous offer would have meant not writing the book I wanted to write more than anything I’d written at that point in my life. (The novel-in-progress now holds that title.) Part of the reason I write is to push myself to write things I wasn’t 100% sure I could pull off. These are the kinds of books that take a longer time to write. The novel I didn’t have passed on to publishers was written over a period of months, mostly during lunch breaks at my day job at the time.

I have different goals than some as a writer.

All This Said, I Understand Monetizing Things

To some, it may sound like I’m against monetizing things.

I’m not!

I have friends who make a living from the things they love online (and offline). These are people who did the thing they love and figured out a way to make that thing work. There was no polling the audience to see what worked best and leaning heavily on those things…they built loyal followings doing their thing and monetized their content.

I think that’s wonderful! I will never shake my head at someone monetizing the thing that’s wholly theirs…that they love making. If I could make a living writing the fiction I love writing, I would. I won’t change to something I don’t want to write as much, just to make a living writing fiction, but my goal has always been to make money with the writing I love doing. But just as there’s nothing wrong with monetizing something you love, there is nothing wrong with not monetizing something you love.

Many people don’t seem to get that…

The Power of Having a Thing

The Power of Having a Thing

It’s no secret that in the past, I struggled with working and doing my thing. (My thing being writing, blogging, podcasting, making videos, and other “things.”) Now that I have my favorite day job ever, it’s not the struggle it was at jobs I didn’t like, but there will always be that want for doing the things I love more than anything…even more than my job. For me, though, having a day job I love helps me do my thing without concern…and because I can do my thing without concern, I value my day job more than ever.

This sometimes leads to moments when someone at my day job sees me accept something they would not accept.

“You’re seriously gonna let that slide?!” they say. And my answer is, “Yes — that does not bother me as much as it bothers many others.”

Someone wanting more control at my day job is not reason to bristle because…I have my things…

The Things!

Every week on a podcast I do, my partner and I close with the motto: “Chill the fuck out, and make the damn thing!” By this, we mean, “Don’t get so caught up in every little thing that it steals from you the ability to do at least one thing you love!” (More about our motto, here.)

My big things:

  • Writing
  • Juggling
  • Podcasting

Of these, writing and juggling are wholly mine — meaning nobody else has a say in what I do with these two things I love. (In the case of Men in Gorilla Suits, Shawn and I flip-flop, letting each other run the show every other week. It works very well, and it keeps us on our toes!)

The Power of Having a Thing

Having something that is wholly mine means when someone at work wants to control something, I can let it go. Same thing in many facets of life.

I see so many people tired because they try to control everything around them; they turn little things into full-scale battles rivaling a crusade. It looks so exhausting and often comes with anger.

It’s amazing the hours lost at old jobs when I’ve seen people arguing about applying punctuation to bullet points, or even people fuming about using Oxford commas or not. Now, I will defend the Oxford comma to the end, but when I’ve written newspaper articles — AP Style — I’ve had no problem not using them. It’s style, and I’ll write the way I’m paid to write. (“Tildes instead of bullets, and two commas after each point with and/or and then a period at the final point? Sure — check, please!”)

Some people, though, spend their dinners complaining about these things to significant others who don’t care. Somewhere this evening, a kid will beg:

Daddy, not the bullet point rage again…

Have a Thing

This is where having a thing matters.

When all around me people are drawing sides and demanding blood over something as small as a punctuation argument that can go either way (Oxford commas), I’m waiting for the issue to be settled so I can write to a style guide…and then go home and write what I want, the way I want — all that other stuff be damned!

The Coffee Fade

The Coffee Fade

A couple weeks ago, I committed a cardinal sin for writers: I quit drinking coffee.

It wasn’t a hard decision; while I enjoy coffee, it’s never been something I felt I needed, even first thing in the morning. My morning routine is something like this: wake up and think about what I’m about to go write. No coffee, just straight to the desk.

Writing wakes me up much better than caffeine.

The First Cup

I can’t remember the first time I had coffee. I’m sure I tasted it on a camping trip with my parents, or maybe while visiting my father after my parents went their separate ways when I was young. But this is my first definite memory of coffee: my great grandmother’s house on Sunday afternoons.

After lunch, coffee was served in delicate cups that looked like something plucked from the gardens in her backyard. Coffee served with cannoli, sfogliatelle, and Napoleans always followed a lunch that was more like a dinner comprised of some recipe she brought with her from Sicily. Because of this, I usually preferred coffee in the afternoons or evenings to mornings.

Why Quit?

So why would I quit something I enjoyed? I realized, recently, that coffee and my stomach do not get along. While I can consume hot peppers, tomatoes, and other things people say wreaks havoc on a stomach, for me — it’s coffee. I can eat a bowl of cereal before bed, lie down, and nothing. Burritos at night? Done that; no issue. But a cup of coffee, and my stomach protested.

So I stopped and things got much better.

The Image that Comes with Coffee

I know coffee and writers are synonymous — some would claim you cannot have one without the other. I get the humor in it and believe those who take that kind of thinking seriously are probably not the kinds of writers worth reading. Image has never been important to me as a writer. I get it, I really do…the importance for some to sit in Starbucks and tweet on and on about how they are writing in between Instagram photos and Facebook updates. Whether writing is done or not, it’s the image of what it is to write that’s most important to some.

Coffee plays a vital role in that image.

In my case, writing matters more than image. While I love the thought of the perfect office with the mahogany desk, I write in an office that doubles as hobby storage space at a desk that’s more functional than fashionable. Hell, as I write this, an empty stick of deodorant sits beside me as a reminder to put “Deodorant” on the shopping list for the morning.

That’s not very writerly.

My Fix

Coffee was never a fix for me — writing is why I wake up 1 or 2 hours before I must wake up in order to make it to work on time.

Even if I don’t get much sleep, once I wake up and think about what I’m about to write, I’m alert. If I’m sleepy, I make it through the day and get a decent night’s sleep. For me, that always worked better than coffee; I’ve never been one to believe that a person can run themselves well on 3-5 hours of sleep a night as long as there’s caffeine. If your body’s saying rest, let it rest.

But back to coffee: “Do you miss it?” a couple people have asked me. I miss the concept of a cup in the afternoon after lunch or in the evening after dinner. But what I always liked best about coffee is the smell.

Should my wife ever decide to quit drinking coffee, you might find me searching for an olfactory fix. You might even find me in a Starbucks, seated alongside all the writers telling the online world they’re writing while I breathe in one of the best smells on the planet and trudge along with the task at hand. But until that day comes along, I can be found in the dark of morning, at a desk bought at Office Depot tapping away at a keyboard with no other sounds…and no coffee.

Breaking Away

Breaking Away

In December, I stepped away from social media and blogging for a bit. And it was nice. After a short return to social media, I’m ready for another break — especially as I move into a section of A Magic Life that isn’t as clear to me as the rest of the book and what I’ve already written that comes after it.

Disconnecting helps me.

I could go on about how disconnecting helps, but I think it’s best summed up by Jonathan Franzen in an interview in Scratch.

…there’s a tipping point you reach where you can’t get away from the electronic community, where you become almost physically dependent on it. And that, I persist in thinking, is not compatible with my notion of where terrific literature comes from.

I don’t share this quote to stir up an argument about the merits of being online or offline; only that, for me, I write best when I have no reflex to see what’s up online. In those times, I have no choice but work on the task at hand or think about writing.

Retreating

Last year, a friend and I took some time off work, holed up in a Texas state park cabin, and had a mini writing retreat. It was one of the best breaks from everything I’ve ever had.

Arrangements have been made for this year’s break, in a different cabin in a different state park. (A park I love, and earlier than last year, when the heat creeped in, making mid-May feel like summer; this year, the weather should be better — even if it rains.)

The Benefit of an Annual Writing Retreat

I’ll say this about an annual mini writing retreat — it’s a great reminder that one takes writing serious enough to leave everything, take a day or two off work, and do the thing you love. It’s also a great reminder of how fast (or slow) one moves as a writer.

I can now see the end of the book I worked on during the last retreat, but I would have liked getting more done this past year. At the same time, I know that if I sit down in a cabin in another Texas State Park working on the first draft of A Magic Life next year, I won’t be pleased with myself. It’s because of soundings like the retreat that I can measure my pace. I am not ashamed of last year’s writing efforts.

It’s the first time in quite some time I can say that.

Breaking Away

I know that some would say my view of stepping away for focus is unneeded — even extreme. While most people I know who say they can spend time connected to things and still get things done don’t get things done, I know some people who do. I’ll go as far as saying some people I know get things done because they are always on the go and thrive on it.

It takes all kinds; this is not to chastise those who don’t require long periods of silence and thought to get things done. My second novel was written during lunch breaks in a busy cafeteria at an old day job where there were frequent interruptions. Consequently, there’s a reason that novel was shelved — the lack of focus is evident on so many pages.

I can only speak for myself, and I know that the best writing comes when I break away from it all and push myself to do the kind of writing I didn’t know I was capable of doing. As I move into the one section of the current book that exists to me in shadows, I know that it’s only through deeper focus that things will be clear and I’ll [hopefully] surprise myself with the effort.

You Wouldn’t Say That to a Doctor

You Wouldn’t Say That to a Doctor

I used to be one of those people who would never consider writing for free. I’ve even been that guy who’s said, “You’d never ask a doctor work for free!”

It’s not the best argument; in fact, it really only holds up in the sentiment of the statement, but it’s anything but a decent analogy. Don’t believe me? When’s the last time you ever heard a doctor say:

I’ve been working on a heart transplant in my garage after work for a year — you should come by and check it out.

But I have heard plenty of professional writers say:

I’ve been working on a novel after work for a year in my spare time…

They are entirely different professions, and to compare them is weak. First: many doctors do [at least] some work for free. Second: Again, they are very different things, without strong parallels. Do you see aspiring doctors waiting for November so they can compete in NaKiTraMo (National Kidney Transplant Month)?

Didn’t think so…

This is Free Writing

I’m not getting paid to write this. Maybe I could, but I’m not a big fan of monetizing things and cranking out content. What you see here, at The Juggling Writer, and what you listen to at Men in Gorilla Suits is content that has never been created just to create content in the pursuit of ad revenue. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s your thing, but I’ve written almost as many free words in recent years as I have words that paid the bills. Why? Because sometimes, I like to write whatever I want to write and put it out there.

Now, I do believe that if a publication is making advertising money that they should pay writers. (This is one of many reasons I’m a technical writer by trade; the times I’ve freelanced have been tough.) I laugh at places telling people that writing 50 blog entries about discount cologne in a week’s time is going to be great exposure for their career. But…I have known people who’ve written for The Huffington Post and continued doing so because the exposure works for them.

No One is Forcing You to Write for Free

I get the argument that those who write for very little or even free ruin it for the rest of those wanting to make a living as writers. But none of us are owed a living as a writer; more than that, no one is forcing you to write for free.

The blog mill asking for 25, 50, or even 100 entries at $1 an entry? Be honest: even if it paid more, it’s still not worth it to write what you don’t want to write, even for money. I know people making a comfortable living writing technical documents, non-fiction, and even novels. At some point in almost every instance (with maybe the exception of the tech writers), they’ve all written for free at some point along the way.

On Spec

I have a novella coming out this month — it was originally written for free in my spare time. The novel I’m currently shopping around was written for free, and I’m working on my next novel with no promise of pay. But…a couple days ago was pay day at my day job writing Help pages and user guides. For me, it’s a fair trade off that allows me to write exactly what I want to write in my spare time — even if I’m doing it for free.

The writers I know making a living writing exactly what they want to write, when faced with writing for little to no pay, took a chance on themselves. No one forced them to write for free — they worked days jobs that were not their dream jobs until free paid off for them. The best part? In the end, they didn’t have 6-figure student loans to pay off like those doctors you’ll never see spending November seeing how many kidneys they can transplant!