Friday, October 28, 2011

Making progress

Today I headed out to the city to visit Jen, another long-time friend, former housemate and partner-in-crazy-adventures, who was staying with our mutual friend Monika and only in town for a day. I fought rush-hour traffic so I could squeeze in a morning run with Monika, who is training for a couple of half marathons. Her training plan called for six miles today, which sounded easy, but then we hit the streets of San Francisco. Our mainly road run (this photo shows trail but it was all of a half mile through a park) fluctuated between quad-crushing steep climbs and ouch-my-knees concrete descents, literally rippling through city blocks. On top of that it was 80 degrees and neither of us brought any water. So much for "easy." Nothing a slice of Indian curry pizza and three hours of reminiscing can't cure.

Driving home, I felt more than a little guilty about all of the hours of "work" I've been cutting recently. The readers of this blog (and most of my family and friends) probably think I spend all day running and riding my bike, posting photos on the Web, and traveling to other places where I can run and ride my bike. Okay, this is sometimes true, but it is not *always* true. I wrapped up most of my pre-assigned freelance work early this month, so my latest efforts have involved (admittedly half-hearted) attempts to seek more freelance work, shopping out editing and design services to other independent authors (while acknowledging I really can't take on any big projects until after the holidays), outlining a few nonfiction book concepts, and working on one memoir.

The memoir is what I consider the big project right now, and also the most frustrating. Just to make a clarification — a memoir isn't necessarily a life story. Usually the genre describes a piece of one's life, written as an autobiography. I've written two already, but these fell more into the genre of adventure journalism. This one is a true memoir, and that's what makes it so challenging.

Basically, I am writing about the first winter I lived in Alaska. The project allows me to: a) share funny stories about a cheechako (that's an Alaska-ism for newbie) living in the quirky town of Homer, Alaska; b) share funny stories about life as a small-town journalist; c) explore in greater depth how and why someone who was essentially an occasional recreational weekend warrior suddenly decided to become an aspiring athlete in an extreme endurance sport, randomly and almost overnight; and d) delve into a concept I once scraped the broad surface of in my "Modern Romance" posts during winter 2009-2010: falling in love with a place, and the effects of these unexpectedly strong emotions.

If this all sounds convoluted and/or uninteresting, I guess that's my challenge, to prove that snapshots of my early experiences in Alaska can fit together in a unique and engaging story. It could also be a huge disaster and a waste of time. I have good days in which I'll work a solid six hours without even coming up for air, and emerge on the other side of the tunnel mentally exhausted, more spent than I would be after a six-hour run. Then I'll have days like Monday, when, after realizing that I had veered in a wrong direction, I decided to scrap nearly 10,000 words that I had worked so hard to mine from the depths of that tunnel. Bad days.

And I realize that the hope of making something like this actually become financially viable is almost laughable. Book sales and freelance projects have kept me in the positive thus far, but that will dry up if I don't generate new work soon. And regardless of what blog readers (and probably friends and family) might believe, I do want and need to maintain some level of financial independence. Thus I maintain more realistic side projects. But it's been a struggle to put real time into these efforts, because I've gotten my heart invested in this memoir. Some days — okay, many days — it's easier to just put the computer away and go out for a ride.

This post certainly isn't meant as any kind of complaint – just an explanation about what I've been doing. I'm thrilled I have the opportunity to do this right now, and I love all the time I have to "work," (as opposed to the days when I was working 50 hours a week at the Juneau Empire and writing "Be Brave, Be Strong" on the side. There was much too little actual fun in those days.) I just need to accept that, for me, writing is incredibly rewarding but genuinely difficult work, and if I want to make real progress, I need to invest more sweat equity. It isn't all going to fall into place just because I have more time and freedom.

Sometimes I feel frustrated, but it's nothing a two-and-a-half-hour evening mountain bike ride can't cure. (Maybe I do get out too much.)