In these eight months as a no-bullshit, no-safety-net fulltime freelance writer, I haven’t written here much. I don’t know what I intended in starting this blog—apart from being a launching pad for all the fascinating, voluminous offers of work my genius would no doubt attract. Honestly, it’s mainly sat. Which isn’t a problem, really. It means I’ve been keeping busy. Busy enough, and usually actually busy, full stop.
This week has been a lull, though. Which, again, isn’t really a problem. One show (Vikings) ended for the time being, two others (SNL, The Simpsons) are taking the week off. So I find THE BIG BOARD (the whiteboard where I keep track of all of my and Emily’s monthly deadlines) largely empty. Last week, I had six pieces. This week—two.
[Insert of my fingers twiddling jumpily on the keyboard.]
Which is, I must reiterate, fine. Nature of the job, which is going, even I must be honest, fine. Steady work, decent feedback, no current need financially*. The issue I find myself struggling with is more that I feel I should be doing more. When I have five reviews, an article, a “what’s on tonight” feature, a newswire piece, all in the same week, it’s easy to listen to the voice always whispering in my head. A constant companion—and constant enemy of true productiveness—it goes something like this: “You did what they demand of you. Now it’s your time.”
Of course, there is no they. Not in any existential sense—that sort of dichotomy is one I adopted for reasons neither I nor my assiduous therapist have yet to figure out. And, now that I work from home, for myself, not in any sense at all. I ask for work, and seek it out. When it’s given to me, it’s my choice. Which is sort of a problem, since my mindset—picture a resentful, deliberately inarticulate teenager—demands a them to shrug and grunt at in spiteful silence.
I love what I do. And I love this life I’m living. Apart from the unimagined freedom of having only to deal with my lovely wife every day, rather than bosses, customers, phone calls, and, essentially any yahoo who might wander in off the street, it’s, well, all I’ve ever wanted to do.
Sounds hyperbolic and facile, I know, but true nonetheless. I’m a writer. So far, I’m making a living at it, in the sense that I can do something I have always wanted to do—and nothing else. And not starve. It should be a lot more buoying than it is, but that’s partly thanks to that super brain o’mine. It resists such things. And, sure, was reviewing Workaholics my dream of dreams? Well, no offense, but how incredibly sad would that be?
I’m writing this, as I always am, lying full-out on the living room floor, my laptop propped up on a ring binder holding one of the three hard copies of the one screenplay I’ve written. I wrote it years ago, mainly to see if I could actually complete something, and no, you don’t want to read it. (And the symbolism of its position as foundation to my current writing wasn’t a thing—I just didn’t want my Macbook sitting directly on the floor, and the wedge shape is the perfect angle to type. Don’t psychoanalyze me, you.) The free time I’ve had (again, mainly through a fluke of network programming) isn’t a big deal. But I’m restless nonetheless.
It’s a function of my mind that I view each day as a test, set out for me by someone else, by forces outside myself. I rise, see the tests, score well, and then I’m done, for the rest of the day. Right? Super-healthy. What I want is to fulfill another vision of myself. Dennis the Professional Writer. Getting up each day burning to write. Simply needing to write. Writing until the inspiration runs out, then—just spitballing here—going out for a brisk walk, watching a challenging foreign film, preparing a balanced, adventurous meal from a new recipe, making love, painting a shed, going out for a beer with a friend, keeping up with a few correspondences, maybe a little light gardening. Then, mind refreshed and energy restored with all the rich, earthy experiences of a life well lived, get back to work on something I simply have to work on before bed. (I am picturing myself as the author photo from an early John Irving novel or Sam Shepard play while I write this. Always.)
Instead, I proceed in reluctant jerks and starts. I get out of bed, check my email and Twitter and Facebook—always, and this is not a joke, thinking I’ll be greeted with the stomach-churning news of a missed deadline or a coldly worded note informing me that the AV Club has taken a long look at my work and decided that they’ve made a four-year mistake in hiring me in the first place. I screw around for a while (Gawker, ESPN, Cracked, Deadspin—all the very essence of screwing around on the internet). Then I take a deep breath and check THE BIG BOARD, even though I’d spent the night worrying over the assignment ahead, and feeling vaguely put out at having to do it at all. I plow ahead, do the work, do it as well as I can. Then I submit it and Surly Teenage Dennis (as opposed to Dennis the Professional Writer) tells me, “You’ve earned it—time to turn off your brain for the night.” Surly Teenage Dennis is a little prick, in other words, and he’s holding me back from making the most of of this life I’ve chosen to go all in on. Prick.
So now I’m here. At least its writing, of a sort. I can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to read it, which—not great for the whole “professional writer” thing. But it’s helping to beat back some of the creeping anxiety and self-loathing that comes with inactivity. Too bad we don’t have a shed. I’d paint the fuck out of a shed right now.
*This, it should be noted, comes even after paying this year’s staggering, jaw-clenching tax bill. Hey kids—wanna be a two-freelancer household? Set aside your year’s first two months of hard, passionate work for Uncle Sam! Write two months for free—and buy some damned war bonds, why don’t you?