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?


Lopi

Lopi is a software engineer turned author, or more accurately an author who masqueraded as a software engineer for ten years. He's currently writing a series of fantasy novels as well as a fantasy graphic novel with the (far too) talented (for him) artist Audra Auclair.

11 Comments

Pl · 2017-08-23 at 5:24 pm

Good luck for your dreams ! I hope you find your way to where you want to be 🙂

    Lopi · 2017-08-24 at 4:57 pm

    Thank you!!

Nani · 2017-08-23 at 8:04 am

Quote by Elizabeth Gilbert. Wether one likes her work or not, I’m pretty sure she’s got a point.
“4) Don’t define your creative success by financial reward. I hope you have financial success in your creative endeavors. I really do. That’s everyone’s dream, and I hope that dream comes true for you. But please don’t make that your only goal, or you may end up accidentally going broke, while also killing off your creativity — all at the same time! I have watched so many talented artists murder their creativity because they demanded that their art pay the bills (in fact, they would only define themselves as “real” artists as long as their art was paying the bills). When their creativity didn’t pay the bills, those artists often descended into anxiety, depression, rage, and/or bitterness. Worst of all, they often stopped creating — thereby killing off the very finest parts of themselves. If you get lucky and your creative work ends up paying the bills, terrific. If your creative work does not, then get a day job — but absolutely keep doing your creative work on the side. Do it because you love it, and because it brings you to life. That must be the primary motivation — to feel your soul expand, and to feed your imagination with joy. And remember this: What defines a “real artist” is not how much money they make. What defines a “real artist” is somebody who makes art. Period.

5) Don’t stop. I think this one is self-explanatory.”

Again, not wanting to tell you what to do, I have no idea what your situation is but I really hope you find a balance that allows you to create and finish your novel and stories.

Nani · 2017-08-23 at 8:03 am

Good luck for both of you. I’m certain that you can be an author, however aren’t you putting an enormous weight on your shoulders ? Lots and lots of authors have written great books while they also worked part time or (full-time for that matter) in any kind of job, like bartenders or stuff or anything that isn’t too demanding and lets you some free time to actually work. Elizabeth Gilbert

Do you need two full time jobs ? I want to become a Patron, however for your format, either I would offer higher reward plans or rather not monthly but rather “per story” rewards ?

Not wanting to tell you what to do, just an aspiring writer/artist in a full time job saving up to actually take the plunge and go for it who really feels for you and wants all the best for you guys.

Audra is such an inspiration for me and I’ve been curious also about your work. We’ve been hearing about Chiara and Nen for a while so I can’t wait for it to actually take shape. I’d love to have your novel printed. Have you thought about Createspace ? I don’t know if it’s any good but heard about it a few days ago. What about a patreon exclusively about comics in which one pledges for each chapter or page or something, using leverage from both you followings ?
Joining groups of other writers for a little bit of extra motivation ? Like nanowrimo buddies but all year ? I’m looking into that at the moment :).

SO ROOTING FOR YOU ! Do go for it !

    Lopi · 2017-08-24 at 4:56 pm

    I definitely am putting a lot of weight on my shoulders, but I think that’s what I need to do to push myself. I really struggle with accomplishing things like this, things that are personal to me, because I put everything else ahead of my own goals. And I suffer from that “can’t do it unless I can do it perfectly” mindset, which I’ve been fighting against for years now. I feel like, if I can’t commit a substantial chunk of time to something, then I’m better off working on something else. I’m slowly getting better, but it still affects me. This is why I feel this path is necessary for me. Even if things don’t work out, I’ll have several short stories completed and self-published, which will actually motivate me to keep at it, if only out of fear of losing that momentum.

    I’m completely aware that a vast majority of authors hold jobs outside of their writing, that it’s the norm, and I have no issues doing so, but I haven’t had much luck in the last decade or so with jobs allowing me much free time. Part of that was just overly demanding companies, and part of that was my commitment to helping Audra with her career. Honestly, I really enjoy working for Audra, and she really appreciates the amount that I help, so a perfect result of this endeavour would be a small source of income from my writing, to alleviate the pressure enough that I could return to my job as her assistant while continuing to pursue my own writing.

    As for my Patreon, I really struggled with how to format it. I considered the “per creation” method, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that. I personally don’t like not knowing how much I would be contributing per month, and I didn’t want to put that feeling onto my Patrons. Also, I plan on putting the stories up for sale for $0.99 anyway, so charging someone $1 to read each story early didn’t feel good enough to me. Like your comment about not defining your success by the financial reward, I care more about giving people stories to entertain or inspire them. If I could give it all away for free, I would love to. So, for my Patreon, I wanted to give people far more than what they could get just by buying the stories when I published them, and the $3 tier felt good, since it’s not only a discount (4+ stories for $3 instead of $4+), it’s getting to learn more about the stories and the world itself, and even having some say in what I write about next. I want my Patreon to feel like a collaborative journey with my Patrons, with them exploring the Nenverse in a vehicle that I happen to power but that they steer.

    And yes, we’ve been talking about the Nenverse for a long time now, and it’s something we both want to exist SO BADLY. This is really feeling like it’s finally bringing parts of it to life. Of course we still want to tell the story of Chiara and Nen (Oh man, I’m so excited for them!!!), but these short story glimpses into that world makes it just feel more real, more achievable. We hate that we haven’t been able to afford taking the time necessary to get Chiara completed and Nen off the ground, but these short stories seem to be fuelling that incredible desire, hopefully enabling us to work even harder (I don’t think that’s even possible for Audra) to make it happen.

    As for Createspace, I’ve actually used it before. I’m still weighing the options of self-publishing vs traditional publishing. It’s a tough choice, but the more research I do the more I lean toward self-publishing. If I manage to build an audience over the years, from these short stories and Chiara and Nen, then I’ll probably go the self-publishing route. And NaNo is a GREAT opportunity to connect and really push yourself. I’d love to get back into that.

    So, you’re currently saving up to take the leap into creating? What would you be creating? Novels? Graphic Novels? Illustrations? All of the above?

      Nani · 2017-09-11 at 6:03 am

      Well if it’s what you need to push yourself, go for it. I understand the putting everything before your own goals. And the perfectionism is such a curse. I think a lot of creative types struggle with that. Sometimes I won’t even start something because I know it will fall short of what I envision and I would need, as you say, a significant chunk of time. Working 15 min here and 30 min there is something that I try to do but I tend to naturally want to work in spurts of intensive work. I’ve been fighting that this year, I’ve spent so much time watching my life go by. Done is better than perfect, right ^^?
      I get the fact you want to share, I hope your Patreon grows and grows !! I still think you could offer higher tiers with like insight into your creative process, or bits of ideas you’re developing. You have more to offer than only your finished stories. I looove reading people talk about what they are currently working on and conceiving, and would be willing to get a higher tier. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Can’t wait to see what grows out of your Patreon page 🙂
      I will definitely do NaNo this year, it scared me quite a bit. I haven’t really written extensively since high school but I have all these characters, worlds and stories in my head floating around and burning to get out. Do you think you’ll join in this year ?
      To answer your question, I’d like to be able to have a year without pressure to get my career going. I’d like to do fine arts, comics and pure fiction writing. Maybe also illustrations but I am driven by a desire to share and talk about things that I find meaningful and important, rather than create visual content for other people’s brands. I feel that I have things to say somehow. Things to get out of me.
      At the moment, I’m working on my drawing and writing skills. I have to be MUCH more disciplined to create everyday one way or another and share the results. I struggle with discipline especially with my day work taking so much energy and often stressing me out. I feel all my passion and brain is wasted.
      Being a creative type is beautiful and so stressful, isn’t it 🙂 ? So many ambitions, so much struggle to make time and find discipline 🙂

        Lopi · 2017-09-12 at 9:41 am

        It’s difficult enough to convince myself that people might actually enjoy my stories, but to have someone interested in my process is even more difficult to accept. I suppose that’s just the self-conscious side that every creative has. When I released my first story, I was incredibly nervous that nobody would like it at all, that it wouldn’t be good enough. But then I got a lot of positive feedback, so releasing my second story was infinitely easier. It’ll just take time for my confidence in myself to grow, but thank you for being a positive influence!
        As for my Patreon, you might be happy to hear that I’m switching things up. If you haven’t already heard from Audra’s tweets, we’re combining our Patreons into a single Nenverse-focussed one. It will have much more than what I’m offering right now, plus a place for me to give more details into the process of my writing and the creation of the comic. We’re both incredibly excited for that.
        I reeeeeeaaaally want to join NaNo this year, but it all depends on how this new plan of ours goes, whether I can afford the time or not. NaNo was one of the best things I’ve ever done. No joke. I had been writing my novel series for years, and by writing I mean NOT actually writing. All I had accomplished in those years was a load of files filled with notes and day dreams and ideas. But NaNo forced me to finally write the first novel. Of course it was an incredibly rough draft that I scrapped several years later, when I pushed myself to rewrite it all in another month (non-NaNo), BUT my novel, in the terrible shape it’s currently in, might not have ever seen the light of day, had it not been for NaNo. And that was when I was working 10-12 hours a day for a terrible company that exploited and verbally abused their employees (the bastard refused to pay me the $10,000 he owed me and then threatened to counter-sue me for $50,000 if I tried to come after him legally).
        Do you be share your work online anywhere? I’d like to check it out. 🙂

Crystina · 2017-08-22 at 1:40 pm

I’ve been following you and Audra for quite a while now, and I’d be lying if I said you two didn’t inspire me. I’m an author too, and I admit I feel similarly; so I totally understand what you mean by sink or swim, because I’ve been treading water myself for the past year. Knowing that it’s not an exclusive feeling is oddly comforting.

I wish you both good luck and am sending good vibes! And, of course, I’ll continue to support your creative endeavors however I can.

    Lopi · 2017-08-24 at 4:15 pm

    Knowing you’re not the only one feeling that way is definitely comforting. For me, it’s like knowing that maybe I’m not just failing at life while everyone else seems to know what to do, maybe what I’m experiencing is totally normal. Knowing I’m not alone gives me the strength to keep going at it. I’m always paranoid that I’m making the wrong choices.

Mar · 2017-08-19 at 3:10 am

Good luck on both of you! I really support your work Lopi and Audra and I am excited for your future plans <3

    Lopi · 2017-08-19 at 10:16 am

    Thank you! 😀

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