I’ve always been drawn to that saying, “sink or swim”. There’s a sense of heroism about it, but you don’t always recognize the hardships that come with it. Everyone has their own definition of what a true sink or swim situation is, the reward and the cost of failure, the actual effort involved. For me, it’s when the cost of failure is the potential to never again have a chance to obtain that reward. And so, in that case, I wouldn’t say that I’m in a sink or swim scenario, not by my definition. But I am in a situation where I have a single chance to go for something, with the cost of failure being that I have no idea when I’ll actually be able to go for it again. But this scenario requires a bit of back story.
I would say that I’ve always been a storyteller. I think we all were at one point. I’ve always lived my waking life more in my imagination than in the real world. For me, daydreaming is compulsive, I’m not sure why. It’s actually a real fear of mine to fall into a daydream and never get out. But it’s always been that ‘thing’ that I’ve been known for. “He’s so imaginative”, “I wish I could daydream like him”, “He’ll be an author some day”.
And I did want to be an author, I had a passion for it. But like so many other children, I was taught to pursue a ‘real’ career. Writers lived in old, broken down houses, unable to pay their bills, and all that nonsense. Thankfully my family still believed in me, but it wasn’t until late 2000, when I started having a different kind of daydream, that I actually considered being an author.
That daydream came to me like it was being projected into my mind, characters and beings and slivers of story that already existed somewhere else. I was only receiving glimpses. Back then, I told my daydreams to anyone that would listen, and after enough tales of this other world, they started pushing me to “write it down, make a book”. Of course I had absolutely zero confidence in myself (being bullied all through school hadn’t helped), so I disregarded their suggestions. How could I be an author?
Then I stumbled upon a Children’s Literature course, offered through mail correspondence, that guaranteed a manuscript ready for publishers by the end of it, as well as all the knowledge required to get the publishing deal. If you’re wondering if I had done any background check on this ‘school’, no, I did not. I was completely naive and immediately bought into it. I thought it might be my big break.
It wasn’t all for nothing, I did learn some valuable lessons. But my ‘publisher-ready manuscript’ was a joke, and after I completed the program, I was right back where I was. I had no idea what to do, but I figured I would sort it all out once I had stabilized myself financially.
9 years later…
Sure, I still daydreamed about that world, and I still wrote down notes. Lots of notes. But the notion of being an author was not even on the horizon. Instead I wanted to be a line cook, then a teacher, then a video game programmer. By the end of it, I had a $70,000 student debt, and worked in an industry that I just wasn’t truly happy in. But still, being an author was only a pipe dream, how could I ever be good enough?
One of my closest friends at the time was also a writer, but he actually wanted to be an author one day, he believed it was possible. He introduced me to NaNoWriMo, and in 2009 I decided to take part. I pulled up my old manuscript, shook my head at how garbage it was, and started from scratch, surpassing the goal, only slightly, with 55,000 words. It was exhilarating, and my friend instilled some sort of confidence in me. I was going to revise it, and I was going to get it published!
6 years later…
Once again, it fell to the side as ‘more important’ matters took priority. And still I daydreamed about it, added endless notes, built up the world. But it wasn’t until Audra pushed me to go for it, that I took another plunge into ‘being an author’. I was between jobs at the time, so the timing was perfect. I pulled up the latest manuscript, shook my head at how garbage it was, and started from scratch. I read numerous books on writing, fleshed out the entire world, built a massive history, and rewrote the book. It was intense and incredibly exhilarating. This time, I would revise it and get an agent and then a publisher. This time.
But I didn’t. Upon further examination, I realized how much work it truly needed. On top of that, all my research into authors revealed that I couldn’t possibly become one of them. They had all written novels, collections of short stories, novellas, all while they were children or teens. I hadn’t. They all read enormous amounts of books. I didn’t. How could I be a true author, if I wasn’t like them?
And so, that insecurity, coupled with the daunting task of a massive revision, left me defeated. And just in time for me to begin working full-time for Audra, because her art business was taking off and she couldn’t do it alone anymore. Once again, I had an excuse to let it fall to the side.
A couple years prior to that defeat, Audra had proposed a comic idea that she wanted to do. And in the years that followed, we slowly developed it. I had even written a script for a prequel comic, Chiara, but it too was never ‘right’. It went through several revisions, with Audra’s help. And then, finally, only a month or so ago, a script was created that was finally ‘it’. But it hasn’t moved from there, and this is where things get a little difficult.
A couple years ago, I left my one development job for another. I just wasn’t happy in the other one anymore, and the new opportunity was higher pay, an interesting project, and even shares in the company. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But after I left my job, the new company lost some funding and couldn’t hire me after all. Eventually, as Audra’s art business grew, I actually began working for her, and it was great. But then it wasn’t so great anymore.
The job itself was still great, but it was the stress that was building on Audra. For us to get by, she had to constantly produce art. We had one income stream, and it was all on her, and it all depended on her constantly creating. We did little more than work, but we were trapped. I couldn’t not work for Audra, because the workload was too much for her to handle. And we couldn’t afford to hire anyone to replace me, since I worked for just my cost living. And we couldn’t transition the workload to a third party, because I needed time to refresh my coding skills and to find a job, but I didn’t have time for that while working for her. It was a terrible situation, and I felt absolutely horrible for being, in some way, responsible for her suffering.
Then things got worse. We had two new sets of neighbours move in on either side of us, and they were terrible. Our small one bedroom apartment was already too small for us, our fur babies, and work, so we finally decided to get the hell out of there. Unfortunately, we had somehow lucked into the cheapest apartment in the city for our previous place, and anything else was going to be at least twice the price. We eventually found a place and moved out, and that was the final straw.
The increased rent was too much pressure. We needed a change, and we were likely going to be going into visa debt to achieve it. But we had no choice, it was destroying us. So, she started migrating to a third party store and I started looking for work. At this point, it would take me about a month to relearn whichever programming language I choose to pursue (almost every job it’s different, C#, Java, Swift, etc.). And the closer I came to getting back into developing, the more sad I became.
Finally I realized why; I had once again had a chance to achieve something with my writing, but it fell to the side. First it was my novel, three times, then it was Chiara. I felt a crushing sense of futility, as though I was never going to finish anything, that maybe I really wasn’t an author, that my insecurities had been right all along.
So, after I had completed a lengthy job search one day, I researched ways I could make money with my writing. I looked at freelance sites, but they were ridiculous. $250 for an 80,000 word novel? Without any credit whatsoever? Seriously!?
I found that writing short stories was my best bet. It wasn’t a get rich quick scheme of any sort, but it was a way that I could finally finish something and get it out there. And I could possibly make some money in the process. Audra agreed to a month trial, we would see if I could actually make any money at all, and if not, I resume my dev job search.
In a way, it’s a sink or swim situation for both of us. If I don’t work hard enough, I can’t prove that I can be an author and get paid for it, and if Audra doesn’t work hard enough to account for the enormous financial loss from changing over the store, then we go into even more debt.
Have you ever had a sink or swim moment in your life?