The End of The Artist’s Way

This is my last week of The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron.  Or maybe it’ll turn out to be the last week of my first time through.  I’m considering doing it again, because of the things that I didn’t really commit to, the first time through (in the weekly exercises).

If you haven’t been following my journey though, in short–it’s a book for creative types (including writers) who are stuck, and leads you on a twelve-week program for getting unstuck.  You spend about 30 minutes every morning freewriting (the “morning pages”), read a chapter a week, go on one “artist’s date” every week, and do exercises listed at the end of each chapter.

I thought I’d had trouble with the other weeks.  But it turns out that it’s this week where I don’t want to do the morning pages, because I don’t want to think about the things that I’m digging up.  It’s this week that I’ve been making excuses.  The last week.  Sheesh.

I don’t want to know the things I’m finding out this week.  I want to delay them.  I want to pretend to think about them before dismissing them, so I can feel like I gave these things “fair play” without really having to do so.  I’m even having trouble nailing down the timeline for all this, because my brain keeps trying to move things around so I can’t find them.  I feel it happening.

–And you’re going to laugh.  I mean, I have to laugh about it.  It feels like a life-or-death situation, and it’s just not.  That’s the way I feel; I don’t deny it.  But I’m tripping over myself to deny the things I’m figuring out.  Maybe I’ll change my mind, and it’s all just a cloud in the sky that blows away.  On the other hand, maybe I’ll bury something important.

My awareness of the dominoes tipping started with Lee’s Jeep, on Saturday.  The power steering went out in such a way that the whole power steering unit (whatever that is) was rattling around in the engine making horrible noises.  This was Saturday.  It had been getting worse, and Lee just hadn’t talked to me about it, so it came out of the blue for me.  I think he was in “I can fix it” mode until then about it, so didn’t bring it up, because it wasn’t a deal.  But Saturday we were going out for a Ray Day for Christmas in July (a “Ray Day” is where  she gets to pick out whatever she wants to do), and I was scared to ride in the Jeep, it was that loud and awful.

So we took my car: front windshield is cracked, front wheel well still shattered from an accident, uh, almost two years ago.  Driving along, a guy behind us in a traffic yelled that our tire was going flat.  It was low.  We drove to a station and added air.  A lot of air.  To a completely bald tire.

I knew it was bald.  I knew it.  And the other tires, well, let’s just say I need new ones before winter.  It being Colorado, that means I better get them before September, because who the @#$% knows, you know?

We got through the day.  I was just getting a cold, so I was headed downhill, so I pooped out before Ray did.  We went to Which ‘Wich, then to Brunswick Zone to play video games, and watched Ice Age 4, which I liked, because evil monkey pirate on an iceberg, and “Any questions?” “WHEN YOU DRINK OUT OF YOUR TRUNK DOES IT TASTE LIKE BOOGERS?!?” “NO!  Well, okay, sometimes.”  Ray wanted to do laser tag at Brunswick, but I just didn’t have it in me.  I want to do that with her sometime soon, though, so tell me if you’re up for laser tag next week (before school starts), and we’ll do it.

And we went  home.

And…all around me, I could see things running down.  Because I’m a freelancer, and I’m not making enough money at it.

I’ve started making more money at it.  But not enough, not by a long shot.  I’m always making just a smidge more money at it. Not enough.

And then Lee and I talked about what to do about the Jeep.

This Jeep…a 1996 Jeep.  Lee was describing what his buddies thought would have to be done to fix it, and he ended that story with, “And they said it would be easy to do.  But…”  Or something like that.

I said, “I think you should get a new car.”

And we talked.  We talked and we talked, and not just about cars.  What came out of my mouth, before I really even knew it, was, “I feel bad for not helping support this family.”

And he said, “I promised you five years, and I won’t go back on that.”

And I said, “I know.  I know you support me.  I know you’re okay.  I feel bad. I’m setting myself a deadline.  If I can’t make this profitable by next year about this time, I need to stop freelancing.”

In my memory, I remember him just freezing at that point.

I said, “It’s not the writing.  I love the writing.  I feel like I’m learning a lot and growing and growing.  I’m never going to stop writing; I can’t.  You don’t need to worry about me giving up on my dream, not like that.  But I don’t love the freelancing.  If it paid enough that the pain in the ass parts were worth it, then…I’d love it.  But it doesn’t, and I can’t seem to make it work that way, and it’s a lot of pain in the ass for not enough money.”

But that wasn’t the end of it.

On Sunday, I read the last chapter of the book (“Recovering a Sense of Faith”), and…

…and I started saying, “What if…what would I want to do?  For a job job?  I have a year.  I don’t have to take just damned anything.  I don’t even have to take a technical writer position.  What do I want?  What industry do I want to work in?”  Because if I don’t think about it, I’ll end up back out at a military base again.  Not that that would be horrible; it’s just that the running joke was whenever someone left, you made bets for when they’d be back, and a lot of people did come back, in a year or two.  Contracting for the military is comfy and stable, no matter what it looks like from the inside.  Your position gets cut?  They try to find something for you.  You’re family.

And I love that family, but I realized it wasn’t my first choice, because the next step from being a technical writer is either getting into management or re-tracking into another area.  You can’t expand as a writer in that environment.

So I asked Lee to come and talk to me: he went through the ritual of Internet and espresso, and when he actually woke up, I asked him if it would be okay if we moved in order for me to pursue some kind of dream job.  I didn’t have anything in mind, just…a hypothetical situation where I could a) make money at a job and b) feel excited about the job itself.  It was…just an impossible idea.  There couldn’t be a job-job that could be a dream job that wasn’t “professional writer.”  Just asking, you know, hypothetically.  He said, “As long as I can find a job, okay.”

I, of course, started leaking at the eyes.

Lately, Colorado Springs has been headed downhill.  I don’t want to say that, either, but it’s easier than everything else.  When we moved here, there were tech jobs all over the place, new cars, lots of hope.  (And then: everything closed up shop.  Just as we moved in, in 1999, and the tech jobs were all flooded with applicants.  THAT was the economic collapse, for us.  It was so, so hard.) And I loved the people: Look, I may not agree with most of them due to one reason or another, but that doesn’t really stop people from being friendly with each other.  It didn’t.  I come from the Midwest, and everyone says it’s friendly, but no.  Not like this.  People just talk to you.  Because.  There you are.  And they look at you, and they notice the odd things about you, but they don’t glare at you.  Example.  After a while, I started wearing colored Crocs out at the base, because they were comfy, and the hell with it.  OH, how they freaked out (especially ex-Marines hee hee hee) about those Crocs and how ugly and unprofessional they were.  But nobody, nobody ever expected me to actually not wear them.  I got a weird kind of respect for continuing to do so.  Nobody gave me the Iowa Glare, that implied I was insane for being just that little bit different.  They gave me the “Young Lady Marines Don’t Dress Like That and If You Were My Daughter I’d Make You Change Those” looks.  And then I just became that chick with the Crocks, go on, tell her the dirty joke and see what she does, ha ha, she made you blush, didn’t she?  Nobody ever stopped talking to me.  Until lately.

But now–the roads are full of holes, and traffic is backed up at non-rush-hour times in weird locations, and funding is always being cut for schools and firefighters and cops and streetlights and everything but the @#$%^&* churches on the north end of town, and everyone picking sides and getting too pissed to give each other friendly crap about their politics.  They’re letting the grass die out in the parks.  Because of politics.  I wanted to spend the summer exploring the town by bus with Ray, but it’s too far to walk to a bus stop in 100-degree weather this summer, too far to make it fun, because of all the bus stops are closed.  Because of politics.  I’m too pissed to talk about politics.

So we’ve been talking about moving to another town nearby, so Lee can stay at his current job.  But so we can live in a town that’s not just…letting itself fall apart.  Just to be stubborn.  A place where streets get plowed after blizzards.  And where the YMCA doesn’t own the public swimming pools, and lets them fall to pieces.  I just about cried the last time we went to the pool.

You see the theme, there?

Stuff falling apart, because you’re trying to eke things out just a little bit longer.  Just push harder.  It’ll work out.

But I’m sucking myself dry, and this town’s sucking itself dry, and maybe it’s time to stop participating in that.

Monday, we got a new car: a Mitsubishi Endeavor (2011, 35K).  I’m really proud of Lee for…the way he did the research.  One of the things we’ve been talking about lately is jumping into things because some damned salesperson talks us into them, and the inordinate amount of money that gets wasted that way, because you not only have to buy that crap, but you have to go back and buy what you really need later, too.  I told him to look at the top 5 of the things in the classes that he wanted, and he ended up with a bunch of bullshit that he disregarded.  So I had a mini-meltdown about it: not the screaming and the yelling, but the, “I can’t give you step by step directions for what you need to do, so if you didn’t get the information you needed following my directions, that doesn’t mean that you can stop looking, because you still don’t have the information you need, so don’t just go, ‘I’m going to get another Jeep,’ because the word ‘Jeep’ is just some damned salesman trying to sell you what you don’t really want.”  I was so frustrated.  But…he listened.  He really did.  He went out and came up with his personal top five, based on features and numbers, not on brand names.  (Jeeps were still in there; they aren’t bad for what he wants, not at all.)  And then we went and looked at them, and the salesman at Carmax (which I recommend, because the only pressure that guy put on us was the pressure that anyone who is obsessed with a subject puts on people who are less obsessed, not the pressure for BUY IT NOW O GOD O GOD LET ME PUSH NAMES ALL OVER YOU UPSELL UPSELL) made some other suggestions, and Lee had enough information to…assess the suggestions.  Calmly.  Rationally.  With emotion, but not led by illusion.

We’re getting better at this, I swear.  Or at least Lee has.  And when it’s my turn, I expect him to nail me down about it, too.

And that was Monday.

And on Tuesday I thought, “What if I could get a job editing at Amazon?”

One of my blue-sky dreams is to start an ezine, so I can edit it.  Not just copyedit.  But pick things out and make sure they shine.  It’s part of the reason that I’m self-publishing, because I want to…I mean, come on.  When you start listing editors as your heroes, you have to start admitting to your conscious self that you’re not just a fool for wanting to be a writer, but a fool for wanting to edit.  I dream of running a kids’ magazine for kids who hate reading.  KID PULP.  But part of me treats that like a trip to Scotland: a nice dream, but hardworking freelance writers don’t have the money for that.  I shut myself down about it.

But.

If I have permission to stop freelancing.  And I have permission to move.  And I have permission to go after a dream job.  Then.  I could ask the people at Amazon to take me, get my foot in the door, find a way to learn editing, learn more about marketing and publicity and sales, and and and!!!!!!

I couldn’t do it well yet.  I know that.  But I know…I know in six seconds or so whether a slush submission is worth reading or not. I know that it’s about the market, not the writer.   I don’t know how to make the final call yet, of what gets paid for and what doesn’t, but I’m paying attention.  I’m getting better at book descriptions.  Better at genre covers.  Better at saleable ideas.  I’m not there.  I feel like if I knew all that, I’d be selling pro markets right and left and making more money on my self-published books, and I’m not.  And there are thousands of small considerations I don’t even know about.

But.  Give me two years in that environment, and I’d be good at it.

I was trying to explain why editors tend not to send personal rejections to writers yesterday, to a writer.  She was upset.  She wanted me to be nice.  Instead of professional.  Eh, writers will suck you dry, the n00bs will.  They just will.  But give me the ones who have written a story that I like….I get depressed when the issue comes out, and it wasn’t them, it was someone else.  I love those stories.  I can’t even be jealous of them.  It’s a bit sad, but I can probably go to bat for something I truly love even harder than I can go to bat for my own stuff.  I have editor brain that can wait until it’s time to edit.  That can step into another writer’s shoes and see what the writer is trying to say.  I can mediate between the writer and the reader, not just get involved in power struggles and insist on Commas Where I Want Them (on various levels not just involving commas).

So here I am, going, “So, in a year, I might rip my family out of everything we know for a job that I don’t think I can do yet.”  And then I just shut down, trying to keep myself from really thinking about it.

I’m sure there’s all kinds of stupid reasons for not thinking about it.  And I’ll work on finding them out.  But posting this…I can’t just erase it out of my head.  I have to at least think.

So thanks for listening, and I’ll have more later.  When I’m calmed down enough to actually think instead of pretending to think and really just trying to convince myself the answer is what I think it should be.

 

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20 Comments

  1. MB

    Brave. Brave for thinking, brave for sharing.

  2. You might be interested in this: http://carinapress.com/blog/2012/08/now-hiring-freelance-contentdevelopmental-editors/

    I saw it and thought, hmm. I’m also on the not-really-earning-enough-money-but-I’ve-got-a-year track. But I’ve spent decades as an editor and I don’t want to do it anymore. Ironically, I sort of think I want to teach, but I’m not sure where that’s coming from. Either way, I know that editors with a passion for editing are a scarce commodity (possibly because we get burnt out). If you don’t have the editing experience that they’re looking for, you might want to tell them about any critiquing experience you have (and/or start working with authors via critique groups who might then be willing to recommend you as an editor.) I’ve hired a lot of editors in my time, and references from authors who can clearly establish how and why you’ve helped their work are always a plus.

    • De

      Sarah – now if I could just get that from a company that works in my main genres….perfect. But I only barely brush against romance, both as a reader and writer, and I wouldn’t want to cheat my writers. But thank you, thank you 🙂

  3. The Fierce

    I recommended your name for a few local things I know. [shrug] Can’t hurt.

    I recently went through a little bit of angst because of something that’s really super-trivial, but made a huge difference in perception towards what I’m going to do in the future. It wasn’t anything as practical as, you know, deciding what to major in, but it meant a lot to my self-image.

    (In this case, it was that I have completely abandoned game design, and decided my real strength lies in scenario design. Given how much of what I read is about game design, and from designers, it seemed like a huge step away from my virtual friends. Truth be told, though, it’s a step towards what I’m excellent at, rather than something I can do only under duress.)

    I went through a similar decision when I decided I would not be “a writer.” Nevermind that I’ve written a couple hundred thousand words more _since_ that decision than I might have before when I was angsting about it… including short stories I’d never have tried, but somewhere in my head was this flag that said, “You want to be a writer,” and I kept hitting that same obstacle over and over again until, well, until it wasn’t as important.

    I feel you in re: the Springs. I haven’t been back. I expected to, and I have family who moved back down, but really, it’s like the rule when you move from a house. Either you hate that the people who bought it just let it run down, or they did something beautiful to it you wish you’d thought of or had money for… and I don’t know which is more heart-breaking.

    • De

      Thank you, exactly: can’t hurt, might open a beautiful door.

      Ugh…I know what you mean about that difference in perception. And of course, if you want to build the scenario for a game company, you have to have the game design in your head, down to the root level, because it has to show people how to play the game and how to come up with their own scenarios, at a certain deep level. Sheesh. I’d never thought about that before, sorry if I’m off.

      There’s one house I drive by every once in a while; they’ve done nice things, and I’m happy for the house. It’s the run-down ones that make me sad, really.

  4. What a wonderful, shining, true post. Thank you so much for letting us in to read it. And I’m clenching my fingers together in hope for you.

  5. De

    Thank you 🙂

  6. Liz

    I started doing The Artist’s Way a few weeks ago and oh man, the things it dredges up! Lately I’ve been frustrated because I’m not making much money at this at all, and it’s been almost a year. I keep demanding, “Why is this taking so long?!” and basically bullying myself. No one but me is putting pressure on me. Sigh.

    I think you can do anything you want to — even the kids’ magazine (which sounds really cool, by the way).

  7. De

    Liz – right, right, all that stupid sludge! I have yet to talk to anybody who’s done this book who’s like, “Oh, yeah, well, I didn’t get anything out of it, more power to you,” they’re all like, “Just you wait” and “If you need anything, let me know.”

    So – if you need anything, let me know.

  8. Liz

    Thanks De!

    Right now I’m trying to figure out how I can do a week of no reading. I mean, I know it can be done, but I have to move around all of my other priorities. (For example, I was going to spend the next week reading through and editing some things. That’s not going to happen now!) I think this is the first time I’ve ever been angry at this book. 😛

  9. De

    It’s rough, I won’t lie. And I did cheat by letting myself edit a friend’s chapter that week, too. It was cool, clear water that only hurt the worse for not being able to drink more.

  10. Shashana's Thoughts

    Dear Deanna,
    You touched my heart. I read the Artists way about 18 years ago and it changed my life. I took risks I would have never expected to take. I thought I cant do this, what am I crazy, I need income? But I did take the leap of faith and things worked out.
    Now once again in my life I am at that same place, I have a job that is not conducive to my mental health, but here in FL like in Colorado it is tough getting any type of work. So I spend time dreaming and researching options. I am older now and taking that leap of faith is not as easy at it was in my mid 40’s.
    I want to live life more fully. I stay in gratitude I have a home and for right now this month the bills will get paid. Like you no extras, just keeping the roof over my head and telling my car she has to keep going and I love her and don’t want to have to let her go. I hope she hears me.
    I found your site because I want to see if I can publish an E-book. Reading your blog I realize I need to get the Artists way out again and read it AGAIN!!! I need to Journal and remind myself anything is possible. So Deanne I share with you “trust the process” “believe in yourself” and trust God or your high power whoever/whatever that might be to catch you when you take your leap of faith.
    Congratulations on your car, so good to know you have a supportive partner, and remember dreams do come true if we hold that vision we want to happen in our minds and hearts.

  11. First of all, congratulations on becoming an Artist’s Way alumnus. Many more people start the book than finish it.

    Second, I don’t think you have to figure it all out right way. The Artist’s Way is like throwing a stone into a still pool. Things ripple out and out and out for a looooooong time afterward. I did it eight years ago and I’m STILL reaping benefits. It isn’t even a big thing. It’s a hundred small things that equal one big thing.

  12. De

    Thank you.

    It seems weird thinking that people just don’t finish it…I mean, here I am, going, “but I might be able to squeeze just a little more out…” I hear ya, but I’m not ready to let go yet.

  13. One of the most grounded, honest, brave writers I know is an Artist Way Alum and he did the program close to 20 years ago. It’s *still* working for him. I find that remarkable.

  14. De

    Really? He’s never done it again?

  15. Nope. He’s never done it again. He keeps up faithfully with his morning pages, a little less faithfully with his artist dates, and he writes brave and true and awesome things. Some days are better than others, but overall, he’s doing great.

  16. De

    Excellent.

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