I've been quiet on the writing front for over two months now. While that would make a great lede for revealing something amazing I've been working, I'm going to be regretfully disappointing. What I have been doing is a lot of writing a couple of classes for clients. I've been working on those classes since October last year, and I was relieved when I was able to turn over the final versions. I had hoped that I was going to be able to get right back to writing here instead...
Attempts at writing
...but that didn't quite work out. Last Sunday, I sat down with the intention to do some more writing. At first, I had thought about doing some research to finish up my series on automated testing in Drupal. I hadn't written anything in Nightwatch.js before, so learning, implementing, and then turning around to write an educational post about it in one afternoon was more than a little daunting. I decided to break a personal rule and start writing a new series on Kubernetes. I've been working with k8s lately, so I wouldn't need to do any research to write an introductory post. I managed to get about two-thirds of the way through that before I found myself slumped in my chair...exhausted. I shut the laptop and went down to the wood shop for two hours to shed the cloud of guilty fatigue.
"What went wrong?" I asked myself later. Previous weekends I was either too busy or flatly too mentally exhausted to put more than a terse sentence together. Guilt aside, I'd have to grant myself that. Perhaps the subject matter just wasn't interesting enough? While the post about Kubernetes was interesting and going in some good direction, it felt like a slog to write. Often I get a thrill out of writing, there's a kind of 'feedback energy" that allows me to work through the various dead-ends, corners, and cul de secs one runs into while writing. I was getting none of that from that post. By the time I shut the laptop, I felt I had just completed a difficult day at work.
There's nothing wrong with something feeling like work. Some tasks are simply not all that enjoyable. The thing is, I've enjoyed some jobs that I by all rights shouldn't have. I used to enjoy facing and organizing shelving when I worked at a pharmacy. It was mindless work, fiddly, and with frequent interruptions, it could be frustrating. Still, it wasn't demanding and by the end of it the result was indeed satisfying. Work doesn't have to be unenjoyable, as Pekka Himanen laid out so well in The Hacker Ethic.
The problem is that when everything is work, for nearly every hour, every holiday, it's a recipe for burnout.
I haven't really allowed myself to be burned out, despite being in various degrees of that state over the last several years. I often told myself I didn't have the option to be burned out. I'm not some marketing mogul or upstart executive who can quit on short notice and go spent three to six months in recovery. That sort of thing is the domain of the privileged and the rich. I have to work for a living.
So why not write about other things?
The problem was that I had been doing nothing but writing tech tutorials and education material for almost seven months. I was no longer getting any of that "feedback energy" from the effort. When that happens, the best I can do is put it down and do something else while that portion of me makes a quiet recovery.
Yet, I balked at the idea of writing about other things. Since I started my Patreon, I felt that I brought the most value to my supporters when I wrote about tech stuff. I didn't (and honestly still don't) see my non-technical writing as all that valuable to people. "I don't want to cost them money for that!" I would tell myself. This, despite the fact that I have a growing backlog of non-technical posts in my queue. Any one of those would have been actionable that Sunday, enjoyable to work on, and easily completable in that afternoon.
But they weren't about tech stuff, so I tossed them aside.
A catch 22
I found myself thinking about this again this morning. I've often thought of writing reviews for things I've been enjoying when I'm not working or trying to be creative. I've read through a few book series, I've played through a few games. I've had thoughts on each, but didn't consider this as serious material to write about. It wasn't about tech, so I didn't want to charge people money for listening to me ramble about The Black Tides of Heaven, Ninefox Gambit, Younder: The Cloud Catcher Chronicles, or Goetia. Yet, with my exhaustion being as bad as it is, it's hard to convince myself to write at all. The entire point of starting the Patreon was to hopefully provide just enough incentive for me to keep writing and not fold up in into a lump of silence as is my natural tendency.
So what to do?
My first thought was to change how my Patreon works. Originally, I had chosen to set it up on a per-post basis as I knew my output would be highly variable. Some months I could get out four posts -- one a weekend! -- and at other times I wouldn't be able to write anything at all. This makes sense in theory, but it also places an element of choice in my hands. If you've ever made a post to Patreon, there's a Charge for this post checkbox right above the submit button. Every time I select that checkbox for a non-technical post, I nearly have a panic attack. I will most likely have one as soon as I'm done posting this. If, on the other hand, I switch my Patreon to charging monthly instead of per-post, I remove that...excuse...from my control.
That may work, although I'm unsure how I feel about that given my uneven output. If someone I support on Patreon decided to change to per-month instead of per-post, I would reconsider if I need to change my contribution levels to where I'm comfortable. If I recall, I only have one person I support that is per-post, and I've scaled that contribution accordingly. I have to admit there's some element of self-loathing that's tripping me up here. Turned around, this line of thinking makes sense, but applied to myself and it sounds utterly nonsensical.
So...just write...I guess?
I haven't decided for sure what to do about that. Switching to a per-monthly Patreon might remove some self-imposed limitations on what I consider worth posting. Then, it'll just be posting. Knowing me, I'll still want to write tech tutorials. I love the format, and writing them helps to cement my own knowledge and experience as well. Yet, I cannot deny that not-writing isn't doing me any good either. The backlog gets deeper, and 2019 America isn't doing my mental health any favors.