Tag: career

Reflections on 2020

This is the first photo I took in 2020. The rest of the year did not live up to this moment.

Wow. Thank God 2020 is over, yeah? Nowhere to go but up, and things will never be that bad again…

… is the joke everyone is making.

I recognize that in the long arcs of our lives, dates and years are arbitrary and only useful as an organizational tool. There is no reason to make goals just because it’s a new year, just as there’s no reason not to make goals at any other point in the year.

That said, mentally there is something nice about feeling like we get a fresh start because the calendar switched over. In that sense, I wanted to do an epic(?) two-part blog post to reflect on the things that happened to me this year, personally and professionally, and then talk about my hopes for 2021. 2020 was a strange year, obviously, in nearly every part of my life. There were lots of stressors, but I have to admit that, given the circumstances, things went pretty well in my creative, professional, and personal lives.

Creative Life

I came into the year with big plans–BIG PLANS I TELL YA–and failed to meet most of them. There are plenty of reasons for that which I’ll go into when discussing my professional and personal life, but it wasn’t devoid of progress.

First, this website. I started it back in December of 2019, with the idea that it would help me to be more disciplined, build an audience, and help me to develop my “brand.” I was fairly disciplined this year, updating the blog twice per week every week except for a *ahem* nearly three-month period where I only managed two blog posts total and purposefully didn’t update during a two-week vacation I had planned. Still, that’s 77 blog posts last year, which is a personal record. I was also disciplined about the vignettes, posting one per month except for that three-month period where I was MIA.

There isn’t much to report on the audience or “brand” front. My page view and engagement numbers are low enough to not even be worth mentioning and I don’t even know what a “brand” is in my case. I initially had ideas about how to build an audience, but was unable to follow through because of time constraints. I wouldn’t exactly say I bit off more than I could chew, but my experience this year has shown me that I need to better prioritize my time and consider other avenues toward finding my people.

I did a lot of writing this year without actually completing any major projects. Still, I wrote nearly 20 vignettes and short stories, started a new screenplay, outlined my next novel, and continued work on the novella. On that front, I decided to hire a professional editor in preparation for self-publishing the novella. I’ll probably write more about that experience later, but it was definitely worthwhile. I had my confidence boosted while also learning a lot about my writing and having things about the story pointed out to me that I hadn’t considered. I’m excited to finish the revisions and show it to everyone.

So, in all it was a good stepping stone year. I didn’t make any big moves, but I put a lot of the pieces in place to make those moves later on.

Professional

This was a strange year for me, professionally. First, it was very busy. Remember when I disappeared off the face of the planet for three months? It was because of my day job and it’s probably something that will happen to me around that time every year. I should have realized that and planned for it.

I took on a lot more responsibility this year. I’ve been with my company for six and a half years at this point, and for much of that my boss has expected me to shift into a management position. I’ve always been resistant to that because it feels like if I agree to middle-management I’m dead. Life is over. That’s what I am. But that’s not (wholly) true.

In fact, over the past few years my responsibilities have grown to the point that I was an unofficial manager, anyway. I’ve been the defacto lead of our little team for a while now, and have had a direct report since 2018. In short, I was already doing the thing I had resisted doing–only I didn’t have the title or the pay to go with it.

At the end of 2019, when our end-of-year raises were released, I brought this up to my boss. I came with data on my responsibilities and how they compared to the market, my experience, and what I expected my pay to be. He ran that up the chain and the word I got back was, “We didn’t realize you were already doing so much. Here’s your promotion.” It went into effect in January and over the course of the year I’ve continued to solidify my grip on our department (i.e., grow into the role). When raises came around again this year, I was given a substantial bump (relatively–COVID prevented anyone in the company that I’m aware of from getting a huge raise) and further responsibilities.

Long story short, I’m now middle-management. Yay?

Personal

My personal goals this year, whatever they were in January, were shot to shit within a few months. And then their corpses were stomped on and dragged through the dirty streets, spit on by every passerby, until their desecrated bodies were unceremoniously thrown into a ditch and buried.

But then a funny thing happened. They were reborn into things I didn’t even know I wanted.

For one, there is Elijah. My wife and I had tried to get pregnant in 2019, with no luck, and decided to hit pause until she finishes her internship later in 2021. Life had other plans, though, and she’ll have Elijah smack in the middle of the internship, instead.

Elijah led to us buying our first house. And then that house decided to make me regret it immediately with a flooded basement and myriad other problems that houses tend to have. Searching for and buying a house during a pandemic was certainly an interesting experience. Wouldn’t recommend it, though.

Other than those two things, my personal life was quiet. Aside from a careful visit from some friends over the summer, we haven’t seen any friends or family in person since March, and I’ve only played hockey once since the initial wave. With my wife being pregnant, we decided to minimize risks. So, it’s been a lonely year in that regard. Luckily, as a writer, I’m good with loneliness. It also helps that my wife is my best friend.

***

As I said before, 2020 was a weird year for more reasons than the pandemic (although the pandemic made it more weird). I’ll outline some of my goals for 2021 next week. That’s right, blog posts are going down to once per week this year. I’ll explain why next time. So stay tuned.

It’s a low bar, but I hope everyone’s 2021 is way fucking better than their 2020.

The Hope Machine: Against All Odds

Belle wonders what I’m doing with my life.

Way back in the halcyon days of 2014 I wrote a blog post about the Hope Machine and how it affected me. I don’t think about the Hope Machine much anymore. I honestly can’t say my motivations are that different, I’m just in a different place in my life. Recently, though, I’ve thought about it more.

First, some context.

Since 2014 (actually, starting approximately two months after I first published that blog post) I’ve had a stable, well-paying job. I’ve gotten married. Bought a house. Adopted cats. Sired a child.

My situation has changed. And so my mindset has changed. I keep coming back to the odds.

A few years ago, John August and Craig Mazin discussed the odds of becoming a professional screenwriter. I don’t remember the exact episode, and I can’t find it via searching, so I’ll just link to Scriptnotes generally because it’s great. Anyway, if memory serves, they assigned any particular person’s chance of becoming a professional screenwriter at less than the chances of someone becoming a professional athlete–somewhere in the vicinity of >1%. The difference is that when you’re competing to become a professional writer, the pool of competitors is much larger than athletes have to face, since athletes have such a limited window to be competitive.

I’ve often heard it said that only the top 1% of the top 1% (so, something like, .00001%) of people can make a living in the arts. But there is a huge pool of competition vying for eyeballs. In considering my career options, I’ve been thinking a lot about, and researching, self-publishing, especially for my less commercial writing. The numbers are intimidating. According to this chart, there were over 1,500,000 new self-published books in 2018, and that number has only been going up.

How do you separate yourself in that kind of environment to get noticed? It’s a problem that has a solution–others have done it quite successfully–but it’s one that intimidates me.

Last year I set a 3-5 year goal to replace ~40% of my income with money from writing. I drew up a tentative plan (which included this website and these blog posts!) and have stayed the course. But the further along I get, the more I think about the odds, the more I wonder if I’ve chosen the best strategy, or the right path, or even if those things exist. I don’t think they do.

And, of course, I don’t have much data to draw from. So, all I’m really going off of is anecdotal observation, paranoia, and ignorance. Which, of course, is the best way to live ones life and make important decisions.

I don’t have a strong conclusion or anything, this is just something that’s been on my mind as my wife and I await our first child, I get further ahead in my day job, and the constant push and pull between money, time, and writing tears at me a bit. I’ve always been risk averse, and am not one of those people that can get by on four hours of sleep and spend that time writing. My brain is too mushy for that. Which leaves me navigating the “safe” route to writing success and happiness.

The best course of action, at least to the rationale mind, is to keep on keepin’ on. So that’s what I’ll do. Maintain this site, publish a novella and short story collection next year, and work on my next novel. If nothing else, I do love storytelling.

Perhaps that will be enough.

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