Death of a Fictionsmith

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When I was a kid, I was repeatedly told I could do anything I set my mind to accomplish. This led me to try things bigger than I would have attempted if I hadn’t believed it. In some things I succeeded, in others…I heard the other message, the one that hurt to hear, the one that swept aside the defense of “I tried my best.”

I was told my best wasn’t good enough.

That stuck with me. It started small, as I still tried to accomplish big things in my 20s. I made a movie, I wrote novels, I pursued my dream of filmmaking. I found a new group of friends and we made things together. I pushed my limits and learned a lot.

But the dream I had of being a successful filmmaker hit a brick wall. Repeatedly. I spent years fearful that in an effort of trying to perfect my movie, I had missed the bus and nobody would care by the time I actually finished it.

Turns out some fears are based in reality.

I shouldn’t say “nobody” was interested in it because I don’t want to belittle the support I have been shown. But, I’m pretty certain we spent more on bottled water for the set than we netted for the first year of release.

Not being able to justify the financial decision to produce another feature film, I turned to novel writing.

Turns out I can move about as many copies per book as it costs to produce the following book. So, at least that pays for itself and isn’t a financial burden on my family. Really, it’s a hobby that I fancy as a lifestyle.

Let’s put that aside and I’ll come back to it in a minute.

Honesty in portraiture.

Recently I had my portrait taken by Jeremy Cowart. I had been feeling a bit down about the state of creative affairs, and I wanted to make a statement that I was back in and ready to return to fictionsmithing (a word I made up because I found fictionsmith.com hadn’t been taken and I felt pretty clever). I brought props. I wore goggles. I wore my typewriter bracelet that had the letters spelling “Don’t give up.” I postured. I saluted. The front that I put up was captured in most of the photos.

But there was one photo I don’t remember being taken. It felt real.

Photo by Jeremy Cowart

I look tired. I look like I’m questioning whether or not I should keep up with this identity. I look like I put too much faith in my fountain pen, or maybe myself.

If I posted this on social media, I feel like it could easily come off as “Aren’t I a moody creative-type?” sort of posturing.

But it was an honest moment. Of the thousands of hours I’ve spent pursuing something I felt called to do, I find difficulty in justifying the time spent continuing to pursue it.

This morning my 3-year-old, unprompted, said, “Daddy, you’re my hero.” It about broke me. No, it did break me. She didn’t say that because I wrote books or made movies. I’ve just spent time with her. My wife offers a similar vantage point. She doesn’t love me because of what I create, which is a mercy and would create a need for me to continue to make things. Thankfully, that’s not what love is.

Frankly, I’m a bit crushed from what happened after spending nine years of my life on a project. It’s hard to be motivated to keep telling stories. I plan to finish The Elsewhere Knight since I can’t leave 2/3rds of a trilogy published, but after that I may need to take some pressure off of myself to be a clever person with a self-appointed witty title and see how that feels.

A silver (grey?) lining.

Don’t get me wrong, many good things came from making greyscale. The friendships built and the jobs that came from having a proof of concept for what I had learned from spending years in the trenches have benefitted me and my family. It’s just hard to justify that to everyone who joined up with me with the hope that the film would be successful. Part of the reason I spent so long on it was to make sure the end product had the best shot of succeeding, to honor (and pay) people for all of their hard work. I think that’s a major source of the frustration with the end result of the film itself.

While there were many struggles and setbacks once the movie wrapped, I can at least take some solace in knowing that I had to learn things like crowdfunding and how to write/format a novel, all of which has allowed me to help others with pursuing their dreams with things I wish I had known before I set out to accomplish mine.

If I return to telling stories, wonderful. If not, hopefully it’s because I’ve found a fuller existence in being me than in presenting myself in a way I want others to see me.

So, now I guess I get to figure out what it means to be me again.


[This post originally appeared at Medium.com.]


4 Comments

  1. Miss Linda

    This makes me sad in some ways, but in other ways, I find reading this very reassuring. My plans and dreams never involved writing or making movies, but most of what I used to hope for has been blocked and I have had to change directions. For me, that has also meant changing how I define myself, because I am not who I used to be, nor who I intended to become. But I hope that in all of this, somehow, I will become who I am meant to be. I hope the same for you.

  2. Gypsy Martin

    @gypsy

    I can only imagine that saying goodbye to a project and the dream it represents after living with it for nine years would require some mourning, and would mess with one’s sense of self.

    I love what Pete said. None of what you’ve done so far is wasted. I know from meeting you at Hutchmoot and sitting in that awkward writing circle 🙂 that you are a thoughtful, genuine person and a very good writer. I have no doubt that you can continue to write while still serving your family and community well, if that’s what you decide to do. I’m with Pete in hoping that you do.

    Cheers to you in a new season (they change, and pass, and this is good.) Here’s to holding our dreams, but holding them loosely.

  3. Hannah

    Hi Ryan, I’m an infrequent Rabbit Room commenter, but I know what it’s like to work on many creative projects and encourage others who do. I also know what it’s like as a friend of many artists to see so many great projects never quite thrive commercially even though they’re fantastic artistically. I hope that you do find a way to keep writing, whether it’s your day job in the future or not. I will pray for you to find a way to continue sharing stories, whatever you wind up doing with the rest of your time.

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