A blogpost by Wildbow after finishing Worm reflecting on its writing: Thoughts: A Reflection on growth over two years.
Here’s the thing – in December 2011, I was in school. Still in school, I should say. I was pretty miserable, to put it lightly. I had zero idea where I wanted to go in life, I hadn’t found the passion that my dad (founder of a small business), mom (speech and listening therapist) and brother (human rights advocate, now aspiring lawyer and a father/homeowner) have found. It’s a hard thing, to be surrounded by people who want me to have what they have, and I’d been looking fruitlessly for years, trying different courses for years in hopes of finding that one vocation that spoke to me. I’d found what interested me (Applied Language and Discourse Studies), but I couldn’t even conceive myself working a nine-to-five at any particular job, whether it was in that field or otherwise.
My writing, at that point, was little more than an experiment. Worm was a way to break a bad habit in my writing, where I’d keep going back to revise something until I burned out on it. The idea was for the serial/blog format to keep me moving forward, my expectation was for a small audience, 15-20 comments on a chapter was a good day. At the time, I was only getting about 200 daily views on average, a far cry from where I am now:
My goal, then, was a simple one. I thought maybe I’d work a dead-end job I was miserable at, and maybe I’d have the time to do the things I enjoyed on the side. It meant I’d work full time at being a filing clerk or janitor or stockboy or housepainter, and then go home to play video games and write. Except I wasn’t even there, because finding a job was proving fruitless.
But I had a talk with my dad on New Years. A great talk. He’s often raised the idea of finding the kind of career in something you’d be doing for free anyways. That night, we talked about it from a different angle. What would I get paid for, if I could get paid to do something I enjoy?
“Writing,” I eventually answered.
My follow-up protest, then, was about the fact that the bar was set so high. Only 1% of people who write books really ‘make it’. It’s very similar for artists, for actors, for musicians.
He asked me, if I’m recalling correctly, “So?”
It was a good talk, covering that and a lot of other points, including school. It wasn’t the easiest talk, probably not for either of us, but it meant the world to me. Still does.
And the end result was that I threw myself into the writing. Once I got my feet under me, I steadily raised my expectations for myself, started paying more attention to the core of the story, reading about writing, and more.
I started to write as though I already had that full-time job as a writer.
A few months after that discussion with my dad, I set a minimum of 4k words for my chapters. I also set up the donation meter, which has been my primary source of income.
Reddit comment on having it all figured out:
I don’t know how figured out I’ve really got it. I think getting to a better place meant overcoming two major issues that sort of fed into the rest of it.
The first big issue that’s really made things harder was trying to follow the path that others set for me. The institutions that surrounded me were places that, save for the alternative school I attended, were meant for people very different from me. The hardest, darkest points in my life were when I was in high school, I realized I hadn’t talked to anyone in months, and I wasn’t even sure of the last time I’d had an actual conversation with a friend or family member. That was the point, as I walked to my next class (one I hated), where I just wondered what the point of it was, then kept walking down the hall, out the door, and went home. I had a very similar point one night late in University, where I was so frustrated with where I was at/my lack of direction of where I was going, that I spent the entire night pacing, unable to sleep. I’ve never been one for suicidal thoughts, never even entertained the idea, but I gave serious thought to hauling up all stakes, cutting ties, and going to a farm in some nearby community to work for room and board, without telling anyone. The idea had stuck with me for some time after I read about some people doing just that. The American equivalent might well be joining the military just to get away.
I was caught up in the system and in the path I was supposed to be following, and after University the next step was a 9 to 5, and I saw it being a brutal echo of what I’d experienced in high school and University. Add the ‘requirement’ of finding a girlfriend when I couldn’t go outside for a walk to the corner store without getting nervous, and it just felt like life was a hard road I just wasn’t built for.
The other big issue I’ve run into is not having many people have my back. I talked about it in a general sense elsewhere on the page, but when the chips were down and it really counted, have been told that ‘being homeless will teach you some discipline’, ‘my feelings are more important [than your feelings about your imminent, life-altering surgery]’, and ‘The writing is another way for you to avoid living life. I hope you fail, you don’t deserve to get lucky and find any success with it.’
I’ve walked the path I walk mostly alone. After hearing some of the above, even when I was with [those] people, it became hard to really feel like I had a connection to them.
At this stage, I feel like I’m only just figuring stuff out. Finding a path that wasn’t the prescribed one and fighting to stay on it, even as people criticized it (see that last quote up there), putting other people’s judgments aside and recognizing that I am my own first priority, really has helped by leaps and bounds. I’m still figuring out the distance I want to keep from [those] people and how to connect with [other, new] people. I’ve gotten very used to keeping my own company and that’s a bit of a problem – I’m something of a hermit.
That’s not to say I’m not figuring stuff out. Have lost weight (and am now a men’s small), last year I got to visit with readers (including a cute girl, woo!) and a colleague, and I hope to continue to do the same. Getting nicer clothes as my budget allows, and piecing together my not-tiny apartment with furnishings and things. I’ve mostly just reduced life to a simple existence I’m pretty darn content with, and I’m trying to distance myself from the negative.
Anyway, to answer your question – what keeps me going? I think this is individual to any person. It’s like asking ‘what is the meaning of life?’ For me, I’ve always had stuff to look forward to. Shows I wanted to see/finish, games I wanted to play, and even when there wasn’t something specific I was looking forward to, there was always something to be discovered or something I hadn’t even heard of yet that was in the pipeline. The future has light to be found amid the darkness. I could visualize a world where I worked a shit job and did the creative thing, but still found stuff to enjoy watching/playing/doing. There would be good days which were so awesome that I could say it was worth it to stick it out and endure the sucky days. I think I’ve always intrinsically believed this and made this part of my outlook, so it’s less of a thought process and more of a general sense that one day things will be better. The school year is followed by summer. The work day is followed by time I can sit back and read something.
Eyes forward, even as the weighty darkness behind you barks and nips at your heels. [emphasis added]
Reddit comment on why he writes:
In response to another question, I talked about how I have a strong creative tendency. I see myself as a creative person – left to my own devices, given a choice to do anything, I’ll sit down and I’ll come up with game ideas or write or doodle.
For most of my childhood and preteens, I drew and took art classes. I didn’t have much talent.
In grade 8, I wrote a piece of fiction in the style of a children’s book for a class, relating to myths, and the teacher liked it enough she asked me to present it in front of the class. Family pressed me to publish it and I was pretty uncomfortable with the prospect, because I didn’t think it was very good (looking back, it wasn’t). That event sort of gave me permission to write, in a way. I started writing instead of drawing, and it was easier to get my ideas out there that way.
That was around the time I started getting bullied more seriously. It was primarily social bullying – less about name-calling or anything, and more about excluding me, driving me away, giving me a hard time in as many ways as possible while being mostly deniable. To top it off, I needed glasses and didn’t have them and was hard of hearing in a hearing school and struggling just a little. This contributed in two ways: I needed to vent a lot of frustration, anger, and loneliness, and faced with a world I couldn’t see clearly or understand clearly, with zero people I could talk to, I spent a lot of time in my head, disconnected and daydreaming (which in turn made me an easier target for the bullies.)
Being heavily invested in the creative also meant I voraciously consume media. I’ve been binging series since I was a young teen, when downloading an image took a good 15 seconds. In grade 10 I stopped going to school, and stopped interacting with people in large part; I stayed at home, browsing the web, writing, and consuming everything I could find online. Two years, in the end, unbeknownst in large part to family, just researching and creating. Another deep, plunging step into the creative.
Even as I stopped needing to vent as much, I was still consuming a lot of media. In terms of fanfiction, I think some people get very interested in the small-scale ‘what if’. But for me, it was always macro, across the genres. I’d get really into Buffy, Angel, Laurell K Hamilton (regrettably), Dean Koontz and the Books of Magic, and voraciously consume everything I could get my hands and eyes on. I’d be left with this sense that, well, no, that’s not the way I’d do it. There’s a gap, a story to be told that’s not out there yet, that’s more to my tastes and fitting with my sense of how such a universe would work. Then I’d sit down and wouldn’t so much create that work as nose around, root around, and see if I couldn’t get the general impression of what such a story might look like.
I started writing because if I didn’t, I’d still be disconnecting from reality and daydreaming, vaguely frustrated with the stories that aren’t being told. I write and keep writing to fill the empty spaces on bookshelves, where the stories that would suit me best haven’t yet been told.