The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Category: On Writing (page 2 of 2)

Procrastination Station

All I had to do was turn in the rewrite. It would take collectively 33 minutes if I dedicated myself, distraction-free. I knew this. I felt it in my bones.

But I just couldn’t do it.

I used to write for Demand Media. Full disclosure: I hated it. Not because they were a bad company, or snarky, or possessive, or anything of the sort. They paid decently, had titles available to write to, and, well, they paid decently. But the problem mostly resided in the fact that I had to write for somebody else and their style is incredibly bland and I wanted to shoot myself in the spleen every time I took on an assignment.

Also, I’m not a trained journalist, and all that crap with citing credible sources and not injecting creative, subjective flair? Not for me. My time with Demand Media felt like I had made an active decision to become a sociopath. I loved the fact that I could have my work published — and edited — by a reputable company, but I also shirked acknowledging that I wrote there. I wasn’t proud of my articles. Every time I took on a new assignment, I felt a small part of my heart shrivel as I packed my personal writing style into a tiny box and set it aside for Someday.

And then payday came. The real-live-usable-money being deposited straight into my bank account always reinvigorated my choice to write for them. It’s so easy, I’m writing about travel, I love travel, I’m getting paid to write about travel, how could you not want to get paid to write about travel when you love travel? TRAVEL.

But I hated it, really. And I knew it, though I tried to rationalize myself out of it. It took an abnormally long time for me to be able to admit this to myself.

The turning point came when my procrastination took a leap into the sky. This, of course, was before I discovered Rescue Time (full disclosure article can be found here: Self Employment Woes: The Battle of Productivity (And a Brief Trip to Mordor), featured on my other blog Taking the Leap.

If I had known about Rescue Time when I still wrote for Demand, I’m sure my numbers would score in the low teens. I could while away an entire day for one 33 minute rewrite, feigning studious concentration. “I’m busy,” I would say, waving off interrupters as they attempted to engage me in conversation or invite me to a glass of wine at the local coffee shop (coffee shops usually serve alcohol in Chile, for the record. And coffee too, of course). “I have a rewrite,” I would say, adding a squint of the eyes that to me implied anal-retentive editors shoving deadlines down my throat and oh-my-god-the-stress-of-being-a-travel-writer.

But my only stress of being a travel writer for Demand was the fact that I simply didn’t want to be writing those articles. The torture continued for almost two years, the main impetus being that I just couldn’t convince myself that this writing should be turned down. The equation went like this:

Travel writing / Something resembling research + Twice Weekly Payment x Online Presence x Professional Portfolio Building = A DECENT GIG. 

This same logic can be applied to a variety of jobs that are more notably a bad idea for me. Like, any sales job. Or maybe pyramid schemes. Both things that promise money and seemingly easy work, or at least work that draws on somewhat specialized skills that you can perform at a decent level. I would never apply for a sales job, despite the fact that the legwork and the actual substance of the job is rationally easy. It was even harder to convince myself that this job, doing something I loved doing — writing — could be a poor fit.

When I started making lists about my procrastination, I knew the end was near. Here is a list of how I spent my day during one of the last articles I wrote for Demand. I got the rewrite in, but dammit it took forever and it barely made it past Editorial.

1. Looked at pictures from the previous night and edited some in Photoshop (1 hour)

2. Hung out with Amanda at the house (about 1 hour)

3. Wrote down a story idea (5 minutes)

4. Wrote down all the things I’d eaten that day and the day before (10 minutes)

5. Made the bed (10 minutes)

6. Ate a banana and then lunch leftovers (30 minutes)

7. Added that to the list of things I’ve eaten (2 minutes)

8. Talked with boyfriend, was confused by his Argentinian Spanish (30 minutes)

9. Utilized the Internet to understand boyfriend (10 minutes)

10. Looked for a short story I wrote in Guatemala (30 minutes)

11. Sent Jill an email complaining about how much I hate doing rewrites (10 minutes)

12. Kept looking for that short story (30 minutes)

13. Started a list about things I do instead of the rewrite (10 minutes)

14. Found the short story and read it; became re-invigorated to finish it (30 minutes)

15. Reminded myself I had to do the rewrite instead, BY 6PM FOR GOD’S SAKE (30 seconds)

16. Checked my day job email compulsively (5 minutes)

17. Wrote a cultural reflection regarding “Pop Non-fiction” (15 minutes)

And so we all know what the begrudgingly compiled result looks like, please read “Do You Get To Keep The Same Passport Number If Your Original Expired?”, featured on USA Today’s Travel Tips section.

Though to preserve something of balance, I will also point readers to this article — How Can A Single Female Travel Safely? on eHow– as one of the articles I had fun writing, and one where a bit of my personal style managed to seep through the cracks.

Thank you for the times and the features, Demand. But hopefully, we have seen the last of each other.

News Bulletin: Midwestern Girl Still Not Making Money Off Blog

Typical Midwesterner twenty-something, S. Bradford, states Friday that she still hasn’t made any money off her moderately successful blog, Taking the Leap.

“I started it thinking it would be just a fun personal venture, which it has been. But I guess I was secretly hoping it would go viral or something.”

Friends and family frequently read her blog, she admits, though it just hasn’t been spreading like wildfire throughout the internet community. When reminded of the fact that seemingly millions of Americans maintain blogs and that a high percentage of them are travel blogs, and almost all of these bloggers warn of making little to zero income, she shrugged resignedly.

“I guess I thought I’d stand out. I write fresh, interesting articles. I have a grasp on syntax. I moved to South America, for god’s sake.” She added, “Do I need to add youtube videos of fish clapping and babies making adult faces or something?”

When questioned, friends and family voiced nothing but strong support for Bradford’s blog. “She has interesting content,” stated her Aunt Belinda. “I love to read it, whenever I have a chance to figure out all that security software and spend an hour waiting for the dial-up.”

Bradford insinuated that she had bigger and better projects coming, but that she still has hopes for Taking the Leap to hit it big.

“If I can make twenty bucks off it, that’d be great,” she said. “At least then I could say I was being compensated for my wallet-draining and life-expanding passion.”

I Blog, Therefore I’m…A Blogger?

I’m just sitting down with a freshly poured grande-coffee-with-soymilk at a Starbucks in the Nashville airport. With my scarf slung around my neck and warm beverage in hand, I seek out a nook where I can settle comfortably and begin writing the next entry for my blog. I’m utilizing time between flights to write, but really, I’m doing this here because the idea inside my head was so loud I felt compelled to get it out before anything happened to it.

This scenario reeks of modern blogger, that secret profession that remains so little-recognized in the physical world yet reigns supreme in the cybersphere.  Yet what does it take to call oneself a blogger? Is it the simple act of creating or maintaining a blog? Does it have something to do with statistical revenue, or maybe it boils down to traffic numbers? Am I still a blogger if no one reads my blog?

This issue weighs heavy on my mind, not because I feel particularly compelled to identify myself as a blogger on my next immigration form or when the relatives ask, “So, what are you into these days?”, but more because it highlights the fine line between passion and profession.

Here’s the backstory. I’ve been writing since I was 9 years old. I started out with short stories about badass girls becoming astronauts, dealing with broken family issues, and exploring the moon. I then personified the space shuttle and its booster rockets in a highly popular tale (in my mind) called “Spock The Space Shuttle”. Later, I received my first rejection letter from Highlights Magazine about a kangaroo that a boy stole from the zoo and took home with him and then tried to discipline and was surprised when the wild animal didn’t obey his wishes, which marked the beginning of the next 20 years of my life spent treading water in the rejection piles.


At least I started learning the lesson of Rejection as a Writer early on in my writing career.

I’m pretty sure someone will want something of mine. Someday. 

But then something changed. In 2012 I made a big decision to quit my day job and move to South America, and once I got there I found myself afloat in the abyss, profession-less and bursting with ideas and motivation. The real goal of the abrupt lifestyle shift was twofold: learn some damn Spanish, and finish those damn novels. I spent my days writing, my nights bartending, and my conversations hem-hawing about how I spent those days. When people asked me what I did, before I even had a chance to respond I’d get a sharp nudge in the ribs from my best friend who would then lean forward into the conversation and respond concisely, ‘She’s a writer’.

I denied this for a long time. How am I writer? I asked her. I have nothing published except for a few meager travel articles. For god’s sake, you can barely google me!

But eventually I came around. This was the change, the defining shift. Somewhere between the self-criticism and the fear that someone would leap out from the shadows and scream, “A-ha! I caught you! You’re not a real writer!”, I managed to become comfortable with the concept of being a writer.

Which is silly, when you think about the fact that it’s pretty much the only consistent thing I’ve been my entire life, aside from also a girl and a little spacey.

For some reason, it is a terrifying and difficult proposition to claim the title of enacting your passion. The most persistent goal I’ve had since as early as I can remember is publish a novel. I wanted to do it before I knew how and why, and I was writing these stories since I could hold a pen. I even learned how to program our old Commodore 64 just so I could get something printed onto a page. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that publication isn’t the goal as much as getting out all of the thoughts and words that sit inside me, vibrating and pulsing and getting hotter and hotter like spliced atoms in the Hadron Collider.

Seriously, it’s dangerous if I go too long without writing. Stuff gets backed up and I act irritable.

Now let’s fast-forward to more recent endeavors. Since my travels began, I’ve been writing almost full-time (because I’m a writer) and my project list has swelled considerably. I’ve found that a lot of my creative expression has been manifesting itself in the form of blog posts, all sorts of articles about my life, others’ lives, and life in general that I never once foresaw on my Docket of Creative Writing Endeavors.

I blog. A lot. And it inherently involves writing, so…does that mean I’m a blogger?

I find myself with the same hesitation in adopting this moniker. What’s the harm in claiming the title? Just like my best friend wrestled with me over the idea of what constituted a writer and why I rightfully was one, there is no golden height marker that we aspiring bloggers must pole vault over in order to be considered “part of the team”.

The difference between Pre-Writer and I’m-A-Writer Shannon was the fact that I finally accepted it. Not only had I been wearing the underwear the whole time, but I finally began to tell people that I was wearing them and it felt great and they weren’t even too snug or giving me a yeast infection.

But there’s another aspect to the hesitation in adopting monikers. While writing constitutes the bulk of my lifelong passion, something I feel like I can accurately claim has been one of the persistent fires in the pit of my belly since the dawn of man, it’s limiting. I don’t just write, or blog, or work on novels. There’s a bunch of other stuff I do too. Which is why the immigration forms and those dreadfully tiny boxes translate a bit too literally in my mind to ‘boxing me in’ to one life path.

Writing is a part of my life, and for concise society’s sake, at least for the part of all of us that feels the need to get an “at-a-glance” concept of who we are and what we do, writing is what I do. It’s how I spend my days, or at least a significant part of each week. But by the same definition I’m also a cook, a yogi, a house-organizer, a translator, a partier, an advice-giver, and a variety of other hats that constitute the fabulous hat rack of life.

Mermaid painting, Warwick Goble

Also, I’m a mermaid.

What matters is what matters to you. We humans are complex creatures, far more intricate and deep than one or two titles. It’s important to remember this when asking someone, ‘What do you do?’ Because the answer we get – I’m in HR, I play football in college, I program computers, I cook at a restaurant – is only ever one small facet of an otherwise beautiful, sparkling myriad of expression contained in one human-shaped flesh casket.

And because I’m a writer, I can get away with ending this post like that.

Why Growing Up Near an Amusement Park Might Permanently Taint My Career

We all know that the best writers take moments, experiences and relationships from real life and inject them into their writing with a finely-disguised syringe, sending a therapeutic jolt of relate-able life zipping through the blood stream of their prose.

I try to do this as well. Really, it’s the natural byproduct of what happens from living life — writers observe people, the ebb and flow of relationships, striking life moments, dull life moments, and these all collect into a Pool of Usable Material at the fingertips of a writer. Or in the tip of their Bic pen, or under the keys of their typewriters.

Jill and I have been talking a lot lately about our craft, why our stable middle-class childhoods both helped and hurt our art form, and why it might not be a bad idea to take a quick dip into the pools of Suffering and Addiction — just momentarily, for the sake of the craft. But scheduling heroin cycles and past domestic abuse isn’t something you can just decide to weave into the tapestry of your existence. Actually, hold on — I suppose I could start with the heroin or instigate some highly unhealthy domestic habits and make my life go south, but I’m not going to do that.

That being said, I’m stuck with my middle-class stability…my relatively non-traumatic childhood, my degree, my job(s), my good health, and my loving, supportive family. SHEESH, GUYS!

Although this is just a sampling of Those That 
Constitute My Genes, I am so blessed to have the 
family that I do. 

I guess the only thing I can do is use my formative years to my advantage. Much to my chagrin/delight, the most resonate aspect of my childhood is Cedar Point. That’s right — America’s Rockin’ Roller Coast. Located in Sandusky, Ohio, this gem of a thrill-seeker’s oasis constituted the bulk of my introduction into Real Life. Summers were focused on obtaining season passes to Cedar Point, from my youngest memories until present day, and then abusing those passes to the fullest extent. Winters were spent pining for a variety of wood and steel-based experiences. Falls were spent being haunted by local ghosts and riding the last wave of available thrills, and springs were spent waiting desperately for the Opening Day.

It comes as no surprise, then, that my adult years are spent relating a majority of my life experiences to the cycles of Cedar Point. I didn’t realize this right off the bat — in fact, it took a good number of years before I realized how ingrained Cedar Point and its environs were in the fabric of my being….all the way to my artistic metaphors.

This came to my attention for the Nth time when Jill and I were caught in a rainstorm on our way to the Chilean version of Wal-Mart way across town. We had been dodging various gushes of water from the streets, multiple dripping gutters and a whole slew of rain-borne lakes when I mentioned (i.e. screamed over the downpour), somewhat offhandedly given the storm, “This is worse than Thunder Canyon!”

Any Cedar Point Aficionado will know exactly what I’m talking about — the desperate unknowing of when the next gush of frigid water will unexpectedly saturate, douse and completely chill you to the bone. Will the raft rotate enough for you to miss the waterfall, or will it place you directly in its torrential, unforgiving path? The feeling of helplessness is overwhelming…and apparently a life experience that resonated most strongly with me via Thunder Canyon.

This is not the first time Cedar Point and its rollercoasters have been the subject of my (select one: poorly-timed/lame/ambiguously creative/regionally-based/mildly interesting) metaphorsimiles. Once in Europe, Jill and I encountered a museum with a line so long it prompted me to shriek, “This is worse than when Raptor opened!”

See, Ohio-folks? You know exactly how long that line was. INSANEly long.

This emergence of a Cedar Point-focused understanding of the world around me has led me not only to seek an appropriate diagnosis in the new DSM-IV, the giant book of  disorders that was recently re-issued, but also to delve a bit deeper and find out what else, exactly, I understand in terms of roller coasters and amusements parks.

Childhood Amusement Park Coming of Age: A bit different than the classical coming of age later in puberty, this experience coincides with finally reaching the height requirement for the Big Kid rides. Any Sandusky native knows about waiting with desperate, nearly fatal excitement for the time when the height stick is the same level as the tippy top of your head (possibly with hair teased a bit higher by mom). This milestone of reaching the height requirement for all the cool rides inevitably forms the foundation around which Childhood Life is based. (“That summer we finally could ride the Magnum”, or “The day you finally made it onto the WildCat”) Boasting to your friends that you finally rode such-and-such roller coaster proves to be good fodder for street cred later in the halls of Perkins Schools once the end of summer hits.

The “Holy Shit What Did I Get Myself Into” Second Thoughts: A brand of roller coaster regret that, although short-lived, is soul-piercing and also nearly fatal. Occurs most often once boarding a new ride, or one you haven’t been on in a very long time, just after your window for changing your mind and getting off has passed and the car begins heading up the first hill. Usually accompanied by an intense urge to pee and or defecate. This is when you shouldn’t look down.

Coaster Second Thoughts tend to occur
at about this point in the ascent.

Amusement Park Exhaustion: A specific brand of exhaustion that occurs only after a special cocktail of elements are mixed, including mid-summer Ohio heat, twelve hours of walking/roller coaster riding/line waiting/greasy food ingesting/water-logged pants from the water rides you swore you wouldn’t go on in your clothes but you did anyway because it was so damn hot out/refusing to sit down and rest because we’re going to ride as much as we possibly can today/lines that reach the 2 hour mark or higher, and sun burns.This exhaustion is usually accompanied by the notable scents of sun screen, body odor, sweat, aforementioned fried food smell clinging to your clothes, and the lingering grit of countless metal hand rails.

Loss of a Beloved Coaster: Cedar Point deals with limited real estate (but really, can’t we extend the peninsula by now? COME ON) which means that certain rides and coasters get ousted in favor of the latest and greatest. Many of my childhood favorites have been heartlessly canned — such as the Pirate Ride and, more recently, Disaster Transport — but at the very least this teaches us an important lesson in the changing nature of life and love. Everything must come to an end. We all get dismantled and discarded eventually….which, I guess in human terms, would be dying. Even Disaster Transport, which, to be honest, I still haven’t dealt with that grief. (Roller coaster counseling, anyone?)

In reality I began detaching myself from 
Disaster Transport when they removed the
outer space theme and the all moving bits and bobs
in the repair bay.

New Coaster Excitement: This is a type of excitement that, for coaster enthusiasts like myself, penetrates deeper than most anything else in life. Let’s talk about Gatekeeper — I’ve been watching simulated video footage of this beast for over a year. I’m living in Chile but I’ll be damned if I don’t get a season pass for the four weeks I’m in Ohio just because I am positive I will go enough times to more than pay for the cost of the pass. This isn’t just excitement, this is dedication. Sure, the ride will be over in a matter of minutes, but that’ll be some damn thrilling couple hundred of seconds. Also including in this branch of excitement are people who track time in terms of number of days until Cedar Point opens.

The “One-Chance Shot” Letdown: This is a brand of disappointment that thankfully doesn’t strike often, but when it does, can be highly disruptive. The scenario usually goes as follows: you’ve either left the city or state for work or school or pursuing-life-goal purposes, and either don’t have it in your budget or priorities to purchase a season pass for Cedar Point. This means you visit once, and during your trip to Ohio you buy a day pass, probably from Meijer. You have one chance to go, and you plan to make the best of it and ride as much as possible, but the one day you’re able to go between park hours, family obligations and general vacation timetable is….the one day it rains. Or the one day all your favorite coasters are down for repairs. Or the one day the wind is so strong that Wind Seeker is closed due to weather and you still haven’t had a chance to ride it since it came out. So what do you do? Ride Calypso? Play Skee-ball? Oh, like that’s worth $50? This is the one-chance shot letdown. Better luck next year!

Other Cedar Point-Specific Phenomena: the Gray-Out that occurs after the first hill on Millennium Force, the specific emotional arc that accompanies Top-Thrill Dragster (anticipation–surprise–glee–one moment of heart-stopping beauty and adrenaline from the front seat at the top curve–glee–feeling like you’re dying/being born–the come down as the ride stops), the spine-jarring experience of the Mean Streak, and the dismay when you realize the Back Lot is full…

As evidenced by this excessively lengthy post, Cedar Point is near and dear not only to my heart, but to my understanding of the world around me. Though there are some life moments that are best understood in terms of roller coasters and amusement parks, I will make a sincere effort to wrangle this probable disorder so that it does not negatively affect my creative fiction. Unless, of course, I decide to get into Roller Coaster Fan Fiction writing…now that might be a real moneymaker that combines all my passions!

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