Writing For Free: The Pro’s and Con’s of Comic Book Blogging

typewriter, keys, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Typewriters.jpg, public domain

Hi. You may have seen me around. I am the Kid’s Content editor for this very site. I love doing it. It’s an opportunity to write about topics that are important to me as well as providing me with an excuse to read more kid’s books and comics. Writing for WWAC gives me a target to focus on. I’ve always had a jittery energy that fills me with the sense that I’m supposed to be doing something else, working on anything other than what I’m doing.

I’m also happy to work with so many creative, progressive thinkers. Each person that contributes to the site has strong opinions and the ability to persuasively express themselves. Also, being an active contributor helps me to come up with more creative projects. Like David Lynch said

We don’t do anything without an idea. So they’re beautiful gifts. And I always say, you desiring an idea is like a bait on a hook — you can pull them in. And if you catch an idea that you love, that’s a beautiful, beautiful day. And you write that idea down so you won’t forget it. And that idea that you caught might just be a fragment of the whole — whatever it is you’re working on — but now you have even more bait. david lynch, photoThinking about that small fragment — that little fish — will bring in more, and they’ll come in and they’ll hook on. And more and more come in, and pretty soon you might have a script — or a chair, or a painting, or an idea for a painting.

[They come], more often than not, in small fragments.

The more involved in the site I become, the more my creative juices get flowing. I want to write a book (a good book) before my ticket is up, and reading other peoples’ work as well as having incentive to produce small pieces of my own is bringing me closer to crossing that entry off of my bucket list.

Producing articles for a collaborative blog gets me more exposure than on my own modest little blog (normally it gets one visitor a day, on a full moon it will spike to five visits a day, however I suspect that it’s one person visiting five times in a row). There is pressure to create coherent, entertaining content for WWAC since more than a handful of people will read it.

It is also a source of personal growth, as my writing is given honest critiques from other editors and writers. Until recently, my writing was quarantined to hand-written composition books, which always end up either lost or destroyed in a fit of my-writing-is-the-worst-ness. Receiving immediate feedback from other people with a vested interest in the quality of the content is a healthy shock to my system.

However, there is a problem: I am exhausting myself. I have a nasty habit of diving into the deep end of interests, social groups, fads, styles, ideologies, etc. and then hastily withdrawing from it once I embarrass myself with zealotry. Like when I became vegan. I met one vegetarian when I was 13 that recommended some light reading to me about animal rights and BOOM—I went ape shit. I was vegan for years in a bad way. I was always guilting people about factory farms and hormones in their food, shaking my head slowly at every bite of processed food they put in their mouths. People gave me a lot of leeway since I was a teenager, but this habit of total obnoxiousness has carried on in other ways.

Like my brief stint with freeganism. I lived in a co-op during college, and one of the other houses in our system included dumpster diving in their house chores. As in “John’s weekly house chore is to check on the dumpster behind the Entenmann’s factory and get us all free cake.” I thought freeganism made so much sense. And it does, really. But I got typically abrasive about how wasteful our society was and joined some friends dumpster diving for a week. This was a short-lived phase from my early twenties where I burned out on my own spiel.

There are many more examples of this, and I’m very aware of this tendency to take ideas/activities to the extreme.

So, getting back to the site, I have some concerns that I’m investing too much of myself in it. We’ve established that I enjoy it very much, if I were getting paid for it it would be a dream job, and it offers opportunities for personal growth. But I wonder sometimes if it’s an updated version of forcing my opinions on others.

Another panicky concern is that I’m doing a disservice to my kid by contributing so much time to it. I work part time, and I might be getting a promotion. A promotion would mean more hours, and more money to pay for things like her education. There’s a likelihood that the promotion won’t come through (when responding to a question about handling difficult people, I began laughing maniacally describing how many drunk people I have kicked out of public libraries). But if it doesn’t happen, shouldn’t I be actively searching for other ways to make money? Shouldn’t I be doing whatever I can to ensure we provide the best future we can for her?

My husband and I combined make good money, and I do what I can to make sure every day is an adventure and learning experience for her. But, I could do more. I could come up with even more ways to help her development, but I find myself checking in on the site often to make sure nothing needs last minute copy editing, to see if there’s any breaking news, or if staff opinions are needed on a decision. I get sucked in and I let myself poke around longer than I should.

So, I’ve set limits with myself. I only check on the site when it’s my admin day, when I’m on break at work, when she’s taking a nap, when she’s winding down before bedtime, and when she’s down for the night. But, I have so many other things to be doing during those breaks. Right now, while writing this, I should be moving laundry from the washer to the dryer, pulling the dry clothes upstairs to put away, mopping the floor, tracking down that scary bug I saw in the basement, finishing Joe Hill’s Horns, wrapping gifts for my godson’s birthday party, emptying the litter box, and prepping our bags for a trip out of town tomorrow morning, But, I need to write. I just need to. The problem is, I’m too tired to focus on anything large scale, and can only blog or write short articles for the site.

Using the few hours a day that I have available to work on the site comes at the detriment of cleanliness and the stack of library books sitting next to me. I’m trying to set a new limitation with myself where I only check on the site after my kid is in bed for the night, unless it’s my admin day. But, it’s really hard when I check my email and murphy brown, http://www.tvguide.com/news/kecks-exclusives-murphy-brown-1046640.aspx, candice bergensee messages indicating that help is needed. And I care, damnit. I want to know that things are plugging along on here like they should.

I don’t want this to be another case of over-exerting myself and burning out. I want to keep working on the site. How am I going to make parenting, work, book-writing, house-stuff, and the site balance?

A second thread that is woven throughout my life is opening myself up and then closing myself off. I go through an ebb and flow where I express my thoughts and feels to whoever will listen, then I regret sharing personal information and over-analyze the other person’s interpretation of what I’ve said. Common questions that nag at me are:

“Did so-and-so even want to hear about that?”
“Did I ask so-and-so enough questions about their own ideas on the topic?”
“So-and-so probably wanted to talk about that one completely different thing, why did I not pick up on that?”
“I need to stop making other people listen to this stuff. The only person that would want to hear about that would be a therapist, because at least they’d be getting paid for. Also, why am I so self critical?”

Then I sequester myself from other people while I regroup. Sometimes these retreats are short-lived and I get over it, sometimes they can last a long time.

I have what they call social anxiety. I actively fight off these thoughts and do not let them hold me back. And I work to get at the source of them without letting it overwhelm me. Part of the process of dealing with this has been cognitive restructuring. I know that my ideas and opinions are valid and worth sharing. But, I get lost in the aftermath of sharing them.

Withdrawing from the site would diminish a source of anxiety, but it would not eradicate the origin of my anxiety itself. In fact, removing myself from the organization would cause me even more stress as it would feel like a reversion into old, ugly habits.

And right now I feel an urge to create more time to work on other creative projects, as though writing for WWAC occupies valuable time I could be spending on a book or short story. But, from past experience I know that if I pull the plug on one outlet, it will smother my other creative impulses.

A fine example of this phenomenon was my move out of state. Five years ago I decided that it was time to leave my full-time, benefited, union job before I got too comfortable. I didn’t want to sit around waiting for life to get exciting and then wake up thirty years later, still working in the same monotonous position and waiting for life to surprise me. I chose to put in my notice, travel around the country, get more experiences under my belt, and write a book about it. I did move out of the state and explore the country, but it was an extremely difficult and humbling adventure. Without a stable routine in my life, I was in absolutely no place to write a book. I was so stressed that I could barely carry on a decent phone conversation. Ultimately, I moved back to where I started and asked for my old job back. With that steady daily stimulation from my work, I was able to begin working on fictionalizing my experiences for a book.Gore Vidal, http://georgehahn.com/wp-content/gallery/gore-vidal/gore-vidal-dead.jpg

If I were to back away from such the writing frenzy that is WWAC, my mind would shut down from disappointment in myself as well as from lack of stimulation. Like that Gore Vidal quote, “The unfed mind devours itself.”

Even though it’s unpaid labor, it’s taking up a chunk of my free time, and I put too much pressure on myself to create content, WWAC enriches my life and provides creative structure. Despite the necessity to make more money for my daughter’s future, my occasionally crippling anxiety, and the dwindling time windows available to work as an editor for the group, there isn’t a replacement for the positive effect it is having on my life.

However. I do find it troubling to have my actual name posted with the articles I write. With my occasional urges to withdraw from the public eye, hearing stories about rape/death/online burglary threats made to other female bloggers scares the shit out of me. I am happy to see my name on these articles, but it alarms me. What if one day I write about how a comic book included an unnecessary panel of a woman’s ass and the slack-jawed assholes of the internet come after me? I need to create an alias. I need to rename myself. I need to create a new persona strictly for the interwebs.

My new personality will say whatever she pleases without consideration for the poor menfolk that like their media to pander to them and only them. She will not overextend herself and will balance her responsibilities in a healthy way. She will not write extra posts when she could actually be completing chores or working on her book. Look out for that one.

There has been a lot of chatter lately about the plusses and minuses of unpaid blogger work. What are your thoughts on the matter? Is writing for free worth the trouble? Or are we all chumps?

Romona Williams

Romona Williams

Romona Williams is an ex-librarian, current tutor, and constant writer. She can usually be found in antiquarian bookstores, curiosity shops, and carnivals after dark.