Where I've Been
What happened to the last few years? Sadly, I know the answer: I was busy working. Four years ago I accepted a position that has been consuming an increasing amount of my time and life. I'm sure I do it to myself. In fact, several people at work keep telling me to work less, yet I still consistently put in 50-60 hours a week (down from last year's 70-80+ hours, so I'm getting better).
The problem is that I care too much about the product I'm building. There are a lot of responsibilities that keep getting pushed onto me and I stupidly accept them all (hey, I can't be smart all the time). Those who have worked with me know that when they bring a problem or question to me, I drop everything and help. There's got to be a Dilbert strip somewhere featuring someone like this. I can picture the cartoon version of me saying "Sure I can help! ... Oh, wait... dammit!" Joking aside, I love being able to help people, and I absolutely adore solving problems (especially weird ones).
I have, however, been actively trying to get better in regards to one of my long-standing faults: delegating. I admit, sad as it is, that I have had moments so consumed by routine that I got ready in the morning and drove to work. On Saturday. And wondered why nobody else had shown up.
Living vs Existing
Now I'm done complaining about work, because something more important has been happening. For almost four years now, I've been on a downward spiral, a self-inflicted journey that led me almost to the brink of what it means to live. I have known for a long time that the vast majority of people aren't actually living; they are just existing. I said as much many years ago when I wrote this quote in a now defunct blog:
If you are not doing what you are passionate about—every day, every moment—then you are not living. You are existing.
— Jamie Alan Belanger (me!)
And I started to slip into that mode. It's easy to do. All you need is a job that demands a lot of your mental energy, an annoying commute, and a Netflix account. You get stuck in a rut where all you do is work, go home, and sit in front of the TV watching something. Or in my case, that's where you sleep, while some random movie or TV show plays in the background.
Eventually—hopefully—you hit a point where you realize something's wrong. For me that moment came from co-workers commenting about me responding to emails and Slack messages at all hours of the day. That was many months ago, and I haven't really curtailed my response rates much until perhaps a week or two ago. Again, I care too much.
I have this weird affliction: the more I work, the more I want to work. I'm not entirely sure I can explain this. It has to do with motivation. I'm accomplishing some really great things at my day job, and just had a good ending to a damn near hellish two weeks. But really all of this personal discontent has been brewing for months now, and sometimes I forget that what I do outside of work should be far more important to me in the long run.
Several years ago, I began a habit of waking early. At the time, I was self-employed and eager to resume work on my current project. Which was fine, since I don't particularly like sleeping anyway. Seems like a waste of time. Even today, I'd cull sleep entirely if I could find a way. In the years since, I've fallen out of this habit, and had a stretch of many months where I'd awaken just in time to shower, dress, and go to work.
Perhaps six months ago, I started getting up early again. I started doing a few other things as well: reading, exercising, and working on my writing. I typically read three books at a time—one on my computer, one on my phone, and one on my tablet while I walk on my treadmill in the morning. Waking at 4:30 am gives me time for a walk, some reading, and I still get about an hour every morning to work on my own projects. This has rejuvenated me in a way that I had forgotten was possible. Sure, the past few months have been especially rough, but knowing that I get to focus on something creative of my own every day gives me something to look forward to.
Most of what I've been reading has been non-fiction books, mostly motivational things. I suppose it was inevitable that the messages in those books would eventually pay off and kick me in the butt. For years, the creative side of me was pretty much relegated to the occasional snarky comment in a meeting. Amusing, sure, but not terribly productive.
And then one morning, I opened a file for a story I had written back in 2014. I read it... laughing... cringing... totally in awe as I was experiencing once again all the emotions that I had poured into the manuscript nearly six years ago. Over the years since, I had revised the story several times, and was generally happy with it... yet... it sat. I'm certainly not a lazy person, but this story and many others have been sitting on my hard drive gathering virtual dust for years.
The big question is, of course: why?
Earlier this month I had a series of revelations. Some things I am reading finally clicked and came together. I work too much, that has certainly been established, but letting that derail my creative drive is damn near a crime. Being creative is what makes me feel like me. Somewhere along the way I lost that, and was applying my hyper-focus to my day job instead of to my own work.
As I took a step back from my routine and started to analyze it, more became apparent. I love working on things, but I hate finishing them. This even applies to watching TV shows. I grow interested in the characters and the journey, but when the story ends there's this bittersweet moment that I don't particularly like. I want it to continue. But everything ends.
Writing and Publishing
In the context of creative works, there comes a time when the story is done, and it's time to share it. Otherwise, what's the point of creating it in the first place?
Functionless art is simply tolerated vandalism.
— Type O Negative
Over the years I've received quite a bit of feedback. Some good, some not so good. There was a point a few years ago when I stopped working on my writing, and stopped thinking about the stories entirely. It all seemed pointless, because crafting a story takes a lot of work. And when it's done? More work. Publishing requires a lot of editing, formatting, artwork, and administrative work to get a book ready for readers. Then I get excited and release the book, and post about it, and tell people about it. And then... not much happens. I sell a book or two, maybe.
Quite frankly, writing and publishing is not a path to wealth. It's a labor of love. Indie publishing is definitely not a gold rush, except perhaps for a very few authors. Even though Lost Luggage Studios has published eighteen titles and nearly one million words of original fiction, our sales numbers are abysmal. There was a time when we were selling nearly a book a day, and accelerating. Then Amazon changed the rules on their site, and we never did recover. Somewhere on my hard drive, I have a pretty epic complaint about that.
And that's the problem.
Not that some external force made our lives and our business more difficult, but that I didn't say anything about it. Somewhere along the way, I started doubting myself. In addition to nearly a million unedited and unpublished words of original fiction on my hard drive, I have probably a few dozen articles I've never published. Thoughts and words I pieced together, and then I just sort of wandered off. I typed what I was thinking, and then by not posting it I was just censoring myself.
I'm done with doubting myself. There's too much I want to do in my life, and to be as blunt as possible:
Creating things makes me feel alive.
I don't want to merely exist. I don't want to roll out of bed at 6:00am, go to work, stumble home around 6:00pm, inhale dinner, and immediately fall asleep watching a movie. Waking at 4:30am every day has given me the time I've needed to return to working on my projects. Now I get home at night, and I look forward to the next day.
Which brings me to a novella I am working on publishing named Stolen Dreams.
I first wrote this story in March 2014, and have revised it heavily into what it is now: a novella of about 20,000 words that comprise the most blatantly wrong cyberpunk / crime story I've ever written. Even Netmare is tame compared to this one. Stolen Dreams is raw, unhinged, and borderline evil.
And it's totally awesome.
I love how the story has come together, and I'm going to format it this week so it's ready to be released later this month. I set it up on Smashwords and Amazon for pre-orders, and plan to release this novella on March 29, 2020.
Motivation and Moving Forward
Of all the motivational things I've been reading these past few months, one quote in particular has stuck with me and has become a mantra of sorts. As exhausted as I am, all the time, I need to keep reminding myself that what's been happening in my life these past few years is not anyone's fault. But I can't sit around waiting for something to change. I can't hope for things to happen. The time has come for me to get off my ass and start creating things again. Seize the day. Stop dreaming. Start doing. It starts with Stolen Dreams. Next up? I want to finally finish the sequels to Fireteam Zulu.
The quote I speak of?
Don't wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great. Weak men wait for opportunities; strong men make them.
Orison Swett Marden
He Can Who Thinks He Can (1908)