By Dustin Hockensmith
Every day I’m losing the fight between who I am and who I wish I were.
The idealist in me thinks I should have no problem pursuing every story idea in my head. I’m also going to be the perfect parent, a loving and caring husband, a workout warrior at the peak of my physical fitness, the kind of guy who finds fame and makes a lasting impact on the world.
The reality is, I’m beaten down and just trying to last another day. I’m distracted and unhealthy. At home, I’m thinking about work. At work, I’m missing my wife and daughter. It’s a never-ending cycle of grand expectations and failures that sets a tone of helplessness in my life.
Too many projects, not enough time, and my writing has suffered tremendously. It’s a strange and challenging reality to know that my passion, my dream job, is now attached to dollars and expectations. Writing is something I would do (and am doing right now) for free, but the game keeps changing and it’s up to me to evolve.
The day-to-day grind feels like the scene in "Goodfellas," when the restaurant owner signs his life away to Paulie and finds out that there’s a cost for his protection. I’ve got a bigger audience than I ever imagined, close to seven million readers in 2014, but anything I accomplish today means far less than what I do tomorrow.
Got a lot going on at home?
Fuck you, write.
Out of ideas?
Fuck you, write.
Feeling like an uninspired blob?
Fuck you, write.
The hamster wheel is going to keep spinning, whether I’m on it or not. If motivation escapes me, my only choice is to try harder to find it.
Welcome to life in modern journalism, where the pace moves quickly and the pressures keep mounting. The model for future success remains elusive as print media dies, but the core strategy, it seems, is to produce more content with a constantly shrinking workforce.
My company, Advance Digital, made waves in the publishing world by slashing newspaper production to three days a week and investing more resources into digital content. Poof! The narrow mindset and often-outdated ideas that go into putting out a newspaper were no longer holding our newsroom staff back.
From a creative standpoint, the sky is the limit, which is insanely cool. A shift in ideals created a job for me that never existed before, and I’ve been able to shape it into whatever the hell I want, no questions asked.
I start work every single day with a blank canvas, which is a huge positive most days. But sometimes, when mired in a days-long slump, that blank canvas is a burden. Creative energy is the key to everything, and as every good writer knows, sometimes you just ain’t got it.
So what’s a writer to do when he’s running on empty? The closest thing I’ve found to a solution is to caffeine up and hope that a rapid heart rate and “artificial” energy are enough to overcome the sinking feeling that everything you write is crap. That’s just not a good place to be.
The caffeine offers hope, if only in my own head. It used to be cigarettes and weed in my younger writing days, a checkered past that included a strong start down a road toward alcoholism. But damn it, living hard also creates experiences and perspective that the righteous will simply never understand.
I’m not saying you should go out and get hooked on drugs. But if you do, just take good notes and file them under “Gold.”
I left a cozy job that paid well for a life of uncertainty that maybe, just maybe, included a chance to pursue a passion I never knew I had. I thought blogging was my future—that a career in print media was a perfect Plan B…in 2007…inarguably the worst time in the history of journalism to be starting on the ground floor.
As I kicked old habits, namely the constant weed funk that in no way helped my writing career, I found new ones. I drink coffee out of a thermos now, an ugly green monstrosity that gives a faint illusion that I’m not a delicate, white-collared pussy. I actively avoid communicating with others. I eat as much in one sitting as a Rwandan villager eats in a lifetime.
I am who I am, and I love what I do. When it’s hard to keep those things in perspective, I'm learning that maybe it’s better to take a breather than try to throw more work at the same, tired problem.
But when all else fails, when that option doesn’t exist, crush four pots of black coffee and tell the outside world, “Fuck you, I’m writing.”
Dustin Hockensmith is a sports reporter for PennLive.com and a radio host for the Keystone Sports Network. Follow him on Twitter @dhockensmith.
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