Instead of reading and publishing Kevin’s latest piece, which is still in the queue (sorry, Kevin!), I am directing you toward my newest thing, a review of Anna Anthropy’s debut book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters. I might also continue to ignore Kevin. One of my 2012 resolutions is “sly self-promotion,” and I know Kevin will pardon me.
Most people will not read my book review, but I hope they go ahead and read Anna Anthropy’s book. The review itself is about a lot of things, but it’s also about video games and game development and writer’s block and emotional paralysis. I’m a little surprised that Stu used my quaint joke title (“Rise of the Existential Crisis”), but I’m mostly unruffled.
I’m new to freelancing, by the way. Many people were surprised when I gave up the celebrity gossip blogging gig, which was a sure bet, a daily, paid exercise that I enjoyed doing. And anyway, freelancing is hard—really hard. Most people can’t do it. I am not sure I can. I haven’t been any sort of success (hasn’t anyone noticed I’ve only published two things since February?).
At some point I might have to give it up. It makes me very happy, kind of, to sit here and write nothing and hate myself, so I’m not sure I will give up so soon, but I keep thinking about it.
But what no one tells you is that it isn’t a living. In fact it’s the total opposite: it’s figuring out how to afford full-time freelancing.
Writing for yourself is luxurious, and like all luxuries, it can be expensive. Even at this early stage in my tiny career I already waste a lot of time. Mostly I waste time trying to devise sneaky plans to help myself afford this glamorous, bohemian lifestyle.
Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like to have been married. I’ve been single for a while now, but this is my first real experiment with being mostly-alone and beholden only to myself. Whenever I sit and rest I suddenly remember I am wasting money. I can’t believe how expensive it is to just sit and breathe.
Emotionally, I didn’t realize the all-or-nothing proposition freelancing would turn everything I write into. I knew that I would need to learn to write faster, sure, but not this much faster. I always thought I was fast. I’m slow. S-L-O-W.
And the stakes for writing were so much lower when I was able to go into a day job, or when I was taking care of my parents! If I published a heap of bullshit, it wasn’t the Worst Thing. Now it is the Worst Thing. (Then again, I am very stingy with what I’ll put my name on. For one thing, I think blogs, sometimes news, are sapping “creative nonfiction,” AKA the Lost Art of the Magazine Article. Internet writing is the norm nowadays, and what we once called “articles” we now call “longreads.”)
Talk about a crisis, though: every day in March, and then April, that I couldn’t seem to finish Anna’s book, was another day of lost wages, never mind my ever-forward march toward an eviction notice and eventual death. (“April writer’s block brings May electricity shut off,” I repeated to myself on the couch, really beginning to lose it.)
This turns an ordinary case of writer’s block into a thunderous chorus, one of your own making, singing a paean to your dreams’ own inefficacy. That’s a terrific feeling! to use every generous window of opportunity others have given you only to prove that, besides not being very good at life, you’re also some sort of couch-bound idiot.
I don’t mean to talk so much about money, but it is an interesting feeling, the feeling of slowly starving to death. It isn’t just money, or misspent time, or whatever, but the starvation part is so much gravy. Or at least I wish it were gravy. Sorry, I’m hungry at this very moment.
(05/07 edit: If you are clever enough, you can eat for just dollars a day, so I hope you ignore journalist Earnest Cavalli when he advises Twitter to “hug me” and mail me instant ramen. For one thing, I already eat enough instant ramen and, if anything, just mail me toilet paper. God, I’m kidding! The point is, these might become things you start planning around, which doesn’t help Writer’s Block any.)
The rest of last month’s crisis is laser-honed on Anna’s book, which itself is a pep talk about getting your ass into gear and not waiting around. The text is meant as empowering, not discouraging, but boy, did it turn me into a mess.
I sent an email early this morning about how, in my role as the “unreliable critic,” I hope other people only feel encouraged. This is a strange thing to say, probably, because I often sound so cynical or depressed. I’m really only sadistic. No, I did not put that part in the email.
What I did put in the email was this, and even though it is really only meant for the one person I wrote it to, I think it does clarify my own slack interest in the nitty-gritty of game development, which doubles as my profound interest in games’ authors themselves: “It is extremely queer,” I wrote my acquaintance, “to dedicate your life and its mission to games. I think—and I agree with Anna here, and this is a real fulcrum of her book—that even just the goal is a profound goal, because it lends so much weight and credence to the form, that so many people would become so dedicated. See?”
“I don’t mean to be so gushy,” I continued in another paragraph, “but we’re a pack of odd ones, aren’t we?”
It’s strange that I used “we” right there, as if I were lumping myself in with some marvelous group. I wasn’t, not intentionally.
Actually, I was thinking of the bizarre people who bizarrely choose freelance. These people sit straight up in bed one night and realize that not being able to write exactly what they’d like to write is WORSE THAN DEATH. WORSE THAN DEATH. That is the only reason you would ever choose freelance-writing over a nice life. Freelance is mostly work and drinking but occasionally includes starvation and folding yourself into a ball on the sofa, where you cry out for intervention. I like to cry out to both God and Steven, but sometimes I phone Cass or my mom instead.
My mother doesn’t think it’s strange that I like writing stuff, but she thinks it’s strange that I mostly like to write about video games. She even thinks it’s strange that I’ve shelved all plans to make a video game. My mother’s attitudes make sense, I guess. But when you play a game, and I play the same game, and then we compare our notes and we’ve had these separate experiences (or maybe the same one), that’s amazing! That’s why people write, too!
Since finishing the book and its review, I’ve gotten only a little better at freelancing. I stay fastened to my laptop a little better—my apologies to Twitter—and I’m getting better at saying “no,” or generally knowing when to excuse myself from friends. In the past you couldn’t get rid of me! Now I’m slightly more aware of a clock ticking. I might even check the time and announce I have to leave! (In some cases I am overdoing this. One text message went “What happened?” and I realized I hadn’t noticed thirty days going by.)
Whitney has taken it best. She says I am a better friend now—more “accessible,” she says!—which is great, that she feels this way, because I am actually ignoring people more than ever.
There’s a book I need to reread called A Writer’s Space. I meant to reread it before publishing the book review, but I guess I had better reread it now. I read it when I was at home alone with my adoptive dad, who had Alzheimer’s at that time, which made writing difficult.
The book is about battling yourself and others—usually friends and relatives who can see at a glance that you are painfully “not busy”—for workspace. The book does not explain how to deal with a family member with Alzheimer’s, but it did teach me how to win a fight against myself, at least.
Of course the doctor who wrote the book talks about deep breathing and feeling very zen. Is that helpful to everybody? Probably not.
In that case, I might also recommend a passage from Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. She is not so patient. In fact, she is extremely irritated about being interrupted:
I don’t know, maybe if I had an office job people would call me all day and ask me to run out and do things for them, too. But somehow I doubt it. No one ever asks me to take time off for them when I have to teach. Folks respect the fact that I might get in trouble from a boss or disappoint my students. But when I’m my own boss and don’t have a designated space outside the home to call “my office,” it’s a constant battle to get taken seriously. For me, it’s usually a losing battle.
My mother: worst offender. I turn off the phone so I won’t hear from her. In my book review I hyperlink to the full-length version of my interview with Jake Elliott; I inadvertently linked to the page where my mother is shouting—shouting! shouting!—for a slice of pie.
Ariel Gore’s advice is, literally, to outright lie to people, to tell them you’ve left town. I haven’t done this, since I’m usually out of town anyway, but I’m going to start.
Part of defending your workspace, though, is protecting it from yourself. You have to get so much better at not doing what you want to do, which is go out with Robyn, or vacuum. When I have writer’s block, my apartment sparkles. Currently my sink is loaded with dishes, which means I’m in a good headspace.
More than anything, if you have some sort of perverted, demented friend who thinks she can make it as a freelance writer, oh my God, please try to be patient with her. No, she cannot afford to go to the movies, and she isn’t insulting you when she gets off the phone.
I also encourage anyone who is thinking of freelancing or making video games—you know who you are!—to choose the steepest, shittiest path, because you will be so, so pleased with yourself, even though two nights ago you watched Rachael Ray while you ate a Lean Pocket.
05/07: This is a murky post, I realize, but I do feel great—only occasionally does the full spectre of my sense of incompetence really loom—and I only want to stress that, if you take it upon yourself to rearrange aspects of your life to allow for freelancing, you can do it.
I want to always be encouraging, if in my usual backhanded way, and I hope you—whoever you are—know that there’s nothing to be scared of. Yes, even if you are freaked out constantly, as I am. OK! Thanks!