I had my birthday last week — the big 2-5 punch…
To be honest, I wanted to be in a very different place at 25.
I saw myself at least emerging in the writing world. Maybe I’d have something published outside of my college literary journal story and poem. Shit, even if it was just some short story in some anthology somewhere in Hodunk, Maine, population null, I’d be fine with that. I imagined myself going to work, then sitting at home and writing uninterrupted for two hours each night, reading after that. Without financial problems, because I’m smart enough (well, most of the time) to know my limits. Creatively and financially above water.
Once I graduated college, I entered the professional world immediately — 2 weeks after graduation. For the first time in my life I had vacation days, and I had a paycheck to back them up. I began to travel to new places, and I began to spend more time exploring the city I live in with new and old friends. Instead of being monetarily forced to sit in a dorm room, I started doing things. Yes, I was focused on my career, but I also was able to support any sort of life I wanted to have, practically, outside of work.
The downside to this is I let my creative endeavors fall by the wayside. While I was gaining what I still think are valuable experiences, traveling to places I wouldn’t have thought I’d go either alone or with people, I slowed down with my creative writing.
I’ve been thinking about this lately — would I change this? Did this set me back, or did this basically fuck over any chance of creative success in my future?
No, I don’t think so. Often, many of these experiences emerge into my stories — whether they’re characters or settings or both. These new experiences have the potential to add color to my stories, to connect with people I would have otherwise not connected with. My mind opened a bit more with each new experience I had, which gave me more creative tools to use within my stories. I honestly believe this would not have been possible without taking a mind vacation from my passion. I’m able to read some of my old stories and notice what’s not practical in ways I don’t think I would have been able to do before.
After I had my positive creative break, I had a pretty negative creative break. I had broken my foot in a pretty serious accident while working on a production floor — 125 lbs of metal fell onto the steel toe of my boot, then rolled back and crushed the first three metatarsals of my left foot. It probably didn’t help that I tried walking on it right after it happened, or that I had to drive 45 minutes on a bumpy road to the hospital in middle Wisconsin to have someone look at it, with nothing but an ice pack holding my foot together (yeah, pretty metal, I know).
Suddenly, my globetrotting and gallivanting was put to a dramatic halt. As someone who is naturally active, going from these new experiences to bedridden, essentially, for four months, was incredibly hard on me mentally. I was living at home, and family wise, we were also going through a pretty negative hurdle with one of our family members — something I might talk about later, but honestly all you need to know at this point is it was very drawn out, very dramatic, and very unfortunate. When you’re sitting on a couch all day with nothing but Twilight Zone and working from home, a throbbing foot because you refuse to take pain killers, it’s hard to get out of the problems festering in your head all day, especially when it’s all those around you want to talk about.
I can tell when I am taking a break for the wrong reasons — I feel anxious. I avoid people, then spend time feeling bad that I’m avoiding them. I spend more time in bed, but less time sleeping. I do things impulsively, and not in the good way — I act in ways that overall do not do me any good even 30 minutes down the line, and I think nothing of it. I’m terrible to those around me (sorry, literally everyone who knew me then — I was not a fun person to be around).
It took me a while to recognize the root problem in this. I was distracting myself from the problems instead of facing them head on. Whether this meant solving them or dealing with an unsolvable problem in my head, either way. I had to move on from this to get back to life as usual.
I think this can be translated into how I approach writing as well. When I’m working on a new project that may not have the most potential, I usually get more out of it than a project that may be more successful marketably speaking but I’m not passionate about. When I’m focused on a deadline, I nitpick every word, I focus on the agenda I’m trying to push and let the story fall by the wayside instead of, well, just letting it happen naturally. I don’t deal with the story — I let it fester behind a blanket of crafted words and bullet points. I get stuck within the minutiae story instead of progressing within it.
In my opinion, the number one thing that makes you seem older is when you lose your passion and drive — when all of the sudden you let death and static habits and monotony take over your life and slow you down. When you don’t have the drive, the dynamic nature, that’s when you get old.
When looking at the creative persona, many people see this person as either a depressed yet passionate person or a dynamic, energetic person — so enthralled by their own ideas and the ideas around them that it’s hard not to listen to them. However, when you lose the passion, it’s easy to turn writing a story into a desk job — and not in a good way. To become exactly what you don’t want by only hearing the voice in the back of your head shouting “shit, I just need to crank this story out. It’s not the best, but I should have something by now.” When a project is defined by a deadline, it’s easy to push the wrong agenda forward and the beauty to the sideline.
It is a beautiful idea — the struggling writer so caught up in the passion that he just can’t quit. He stays up til 2am, even though he has to work at 6 in the morning. But that’s the key — the passion. Once you begin to lose the passion, it’s important to take a step back and take a look at what you’re doing. I’m trying not to sound like an authority figure on this — I realize I don’t know your life, and I don’t know your process, but this is what I’ve found helps me.
Most importantly, don’t get caught up in the age deadlines — that you have to be published by age 25. Age 30. Age whatever however old you are. As long as you have the passion within your words and a sense of purpose, maybe it’s better that you waited. Maybe it’s better to use your life experiences to create something truly meaningful.