11.14.2014

Willful Doing vs. Wishful Thinking

Last night I went to a free 2-hour seminar offered via the UW Madison Adult Career and Special Student Services (ACSSS) program, called Career Change 101. I took this course in 2009, after I “fired” my boss at the vitamin company to pursue entrepreneurial adventures for a year and a half. This time, much like then, the discussion and exercises of the seminar elucidated that my true passions in life have not changed, writing and music with an entrepreneurial compulsion, although now the emphasis may rest more heavily on writing. I’d love to be a travel writer, and I am going to indulge some creative non-fiction impulses in a little over a week, when I begin a fortnight of international travel “down under” in Australia. I’m also doing National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) right now, even though I started too late to probably crank out the goal of a 50,000 word novel. So instead, I have been writing short works of FLASH FICTION. See what I did there? I used flash fiction as a keyword to link back to the blog where I am posting flash fiction, thus compelling Google to rank this post more highly. I also joined Digital Writing Month (DigiWriMo), via UW Madison, which is more of a non-specific writing workshop that takes place through all of November (as does NaNoWriMo). You can write whatever you want for #DigiWriMo, so that's probably more my style, since I never know what's going to result.

The other thing I elucidated from the seminar is that I don’t mind doing technical writing for corporate clients in exchange for cash, because I am good at it, but that the topic of the writing is very important for maintaining my attention and interest, which speaks to enjoyment. One of the exercises at the seminar was a checklist of activities and traits, next to which were two columns – GOOD AT and ENJOY. This is actually quite an important distinction. There are things that I am good at, like writing comprehensible English and editing incomprehensible English. But enjoyment requires an interest in the subject matter or the outcome of the activity itself (goal). In short…do I care? The best case scenario is to check BOTH categories next to an activity or trait. That is a sign that you should try to pursue those activities and traits in the pursuit of a vocation because you'll be successful and enjoy doing it.

Science writing is really my favorite kind of technical non-fiction writing – biological sciences, medical fields, biotechnology, genetics, and the like. My current job is pretty cool, even though it’s in IT, a subject that does not exactly fill me with excitement. But the people are great to work with, very cooperative and intelligent and laid back. A good work environment is important too. I enjoy working at my current job and the people. I don’t necessarily enjoy the dry IT subject matter, but I am good at documenting it, in part because I enjoy the team I am working with and thus view the end goal (approved, compliant, intelligible, published documents) as a kind of team effort, and I get satisfaction when I help the team hit their goals. They appreciate me too.

But what I really ENJOY is creative writing (of both written word and music). I cannot say that I am GOOD at creative writing in the sense of being GREAT at creative writing, because I have never had much formal education or training at it, beyond a few courses in college. Most of my abilities in this realm come from the act of just doing it a lot (willful doing vs. wishful thinking…part of why I am doing NaNoWriMo and DigiWriMo, even though I have a snowflake’s chance in hell of successfully completing the former this year). But I do believe that success is 90% practice and 10% innate talent, so just doing it is beneficial to some degree. My frequent blogging of at least 10 minutes per day, notwithstanding the personal essay format, has definitely improved my writing skill (mechanics of writing), even if the subject matter and genre are not that compelling. A writing teacher once told me the most important gauge of writing success is whether the reader keeps reading.

Are you still reading? Comment on this post below if you are, so I will have some sense of readership.

Another thing that was brought to my attention at the seminar (as was the case in 2009) is the idea of an INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW. Unlike a job interview, this is a voluntary conversation with someone who does what you want to do, or are maybe considering doing, without intention to get a job out of it. You learn about what they do, how they do it, if they enjoy it, the obstacles, the perks. Then you can see if it is something you really want to do based on evidence-based reality. It's a good idea to interview more than one person in the field to get a variety of perspectives.

I know a couple of creative writers who have produced published books with variable marketing success, and I think I will pick their brains. A side effect of the informational interview is networking with people who are in the field you aspire to and this may also result in opportunities later. But that is secondary to the research of getting to know your field.

I am more inspired than ever to take a creative writing class through the UW Continuing Studies program. I also heard about a writing workshop in Waukesha WI called the AllWriters' Workplace & Workshop, via my volunteerism with the Radio Literature program on WORT FM Community Radio in Madison WI (See? Networking!). I have already touched base with the woman who runs it and I may take an online class there. The prices are comparable between the AllWriters' Workshop and the UW courses, averaging around $150/course. I have to manage my finances and investments in my art carefully, because my "underwriting" from THE MAN (day job) is a bit up in the air right now, and quite a span of time likely exists between NOW and any kind of financial reward from my artistic writing. There's a good likelihood my current employer will hire me on as a permanent full time employee (I'm a contractor now), but I am not about to put all my eggs into that basket just yet...not until I get a written offer on paper. Until then though, my boss has indicated she will keep extending my contract as long as she is able to. As a result of being a contractor, I will be "self employed" during my stint in Australia, which is a fancy way of saying UNPAID. The pocketbook will be a bit thinner than I'd like for a couple weeks after I am back, which kind of sucks since that will be around Christmas time. Luckily, my family isn't into a lot of excessive Christmas present spending, and chances are we won't even get together over Christmas, since my entire extended family is going on the Australia trip, and that will be kind of like our holiday time together. Which reminds me...my sister's birthday is at the end of the month and I need to find something to give her as a present. I will probably handle this task while we are in Australia, to keep my mind focused on getting ready for the trip over the next week. But maybe I will have a sudden epiphany on what to get her.

Lastly, the seminar made me think about wishful thinking vs. willful doing. If you want to achieve a goal, you have to apply willful doing. If you only apply wishful thinking, there is zero chance of hitting the goal. If you apply willful doing as well, the chance of achieving the goal is non-zero. In the case of my goal of writing and publishing a book or anything at all, for money, the probability is most likely somewhere between zero and epsilon (a number slightly larger than zero). The odds aren’t great, but that cannot be a deterrent to trying, since it is my passion in life and there are no other chances after this life is over. It just means I should not put all my eggs in one very risky basket (I did this in 2009, and though I have no regrets, it was not sustainable).

Current philosophy is to pay the bills with technical writing grunt work for THE MAN and pursue my artistic passion nights and weekends for the rest of my life

Indeed, I will be indulging my passion for live rock-n-roll music performance tonight, when my band GUPPY EFFECT rocks Tower Lanes in Beaver Dam WI for our Big Lebowski themed rock-n-roll party. Be there, or be square.

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