Dear Captain Awkward & Associated Awesome Awkwardeers,
My longtime internet friend and I have a serial writing project that we publish casually online for free; we’ve been writing on it practically since we met. We have a very small fanbase, but they are extremely dedicated and patient as we work to get the writing up. We missed getting our latest installment up on time, and since then I’ve tried to work on it every evening, but Friend has been a little less into it, and it can’t go forward without the both of us. It’s not like we have Real Obligations though, and the muse wants what the muse wants, so I’ve tried my best to be cool about things even though I’m desperate to finally get it online.
Recently, however, Friend decided to sign up for another writing challenge that will take 1-2 months to complete. (It’s annual, like NaNoWriMo.) They asked me first if I would be cool with it, and I said (honestly!) that I would be sad about our project, but if they aren’t feeling it they aren’t feeling it, and they shouldn’t be forced into writing something they are sick of, because that’s a surefire way to get them to hate it and hate me for pushing it. I told them to go for it.
The thing is, I have put most of my emotional eggs in this basket. I suffer with depression, anxiety, and other physical health problems that make it hard to even get out of the house, much less find work, I am trapped an abusive household, I am broke, and I have no healthy “real life” relationships with anyone. For years, this project has been my reason for getting out of bed every day, but I haven’t been out of bed since Friend broke the news. I’m extremely disappointed and embarrassed about letting down the people who follow us, and my jerkbrain is irrationally terrified this means Friend is getting tired of our project FOREVER (and tired of me by extension).
I know Friend deserves space and to work on things that interest them even if it doesn’t make me happy. This shouldn’t be a big deal and I don’t want to make it one. I don’t want to be anyone’s obligation and I don’t want Friend feeling guilty. I think if it weren’t for that recently missed deadline I could just deal with it, but I keep going back and forth between bitter resentment and blame-throwing, and then feeling horrified at thinking like that about someone I love so dearly. I’m afraid letting on how upset I am will lead to a FEELINGSDUMP, or that I’ll FEELINGSDUMP anyway, and make things seriously awkward. But suffering in silence feels dishonest and neglectful of my own needs, while making a big stink feels childish and clingy. I just don’t know how I’m going to get through these next months without messing everything up.
Please, please, PLEASE help me, Awkardeers. You’re my only hope! My entire social circle knows this person, and I don’t have a single other soul I can confide in or ask for objectivity from.
much love and many thanks,
Trying To Deal Responsibly
Dear Trying To Deal:
If your friend were in fact ready to move on from this project permanently, is the work important enough to you to keep doing it alone?
“Jerkbrain” is my native tongue, and I can hear your automatic “but I caaaaaan’t because of 10,000 reasons” through the Internet, but I want you to sit with that question for a little while before you comment here or talk to your friend, because it is a real question.
Because if any part of the answer is “Yes, I would want to keep going”, then my honest advice is to do it alone. Communicate exactly what you are doing and why, but do it.
“Friend, I know your focus isn’t on our project right now, but it’s important to me to keep going and maintain momentum, so I’m going to get last week’s/month’s installment up on my own.”
If you really can’t do it alone, like, it’s a web comic and you write the scripts but they draw the panels, raise the possibility of a different collaborator.
“Friend, I know your focus isn’t on our project right now, but it’s important to me to keep going and maintain momentum, so I am going to ask (fellow artist) to draw this month’s panels and see how that works out.”
You can add onto both of those statements. “Friend, I want to do this with you, and the door is always open when you are ready to work on it again. I don’t want to pressure you if you’re not into it right now, but I also don’t want to stop.”
I get why this is terrifying. What if your friend quits permanently and you have to do it alone? What if your friend is really hurt by the mere idea of you carrying on without them? What if this is The End for this particular project?
But the work is the work. If the work is going to continue, you need an agreement and a plan for how to move forward. There is no magic way that will happen with a guarantee that things won’t get messed up or without a possibly scary, possibly difficult conversation. You can’t just be nice and chill and cool at this until it gets better.
The plan itself can take many shapes:
1) You do the work alone for a while.
2) You do the work with a different collaborator.
3) You do different work, alone or with a different collaborator, but for the same audience.
4) You and friend have an honest conversation about commitment and priorities and you find out for sure what their needs and plans are.
5) You and friend decide to put the work on hiatus for a set period and revisit the discussion later.
6) You and friend make a plan to end the project, wrap up the story, etc. in a way that will be satisfying and respectful to the audience you’ve built and then you stick to that plan. (This is actually a great outcome to this problem in my opinion.)
So think about the plan(s) that you could live with and ask your friend where their priorities and hopes lie.
You’ve correctly identified that an argument based around “THIS PROJECT IS MY ONLY OUTLET & REASON FOR GETTING UP IN THE MORNING” is too much pressure to put on a collaborator (or a friend). Your friend doesn’t necessarily need to be privy to the entire FEELINGSCYCLE that’s in your head right now.
But trying to be cool when you’re not feeling cool is a recipe for disaster. You are allowed to have needs and to say that the project is important to you, and if your friend can’t contribute now, what does the future look like? If they say “Let’s go on hiatus for 3 months and regroup later,” that isn’t what you want to do, but it at least gives you a basis for making decisions about the future of the project and the friendship.
“Friend, I am becoming anxious that this break is the beginning of your permanent disengagement from the project. Is that what is happening, or is that my anxiety talking? If it’s the second, it would help me to have a set timeframe for when we can start working again. If it’s the first thing, then I think we both need to do some thinking, because I very much want both the project and our friendship to survive even if they don’t proceed together. I don’t want to pressure you, but I do need us to hammer out some kind of agreement on what happens for say, the next 3 months.”
Or, like we’ve suggested before in other conflict situations, ask a question.
“Friend, I don’t want to pressure you to work on this if your attention needs to be elsewhere or you need a break, but I also don’t want to lose more momentum. What do you think we should do? In an ideal situation, how would you like this to play out?”
That ask your friend to articulate a positive (what they want to happen) vs. a negative and takes the pressure off of you to manage and predict all of their feelings about it.
Collaborations and projects have their own life-cycle, and even the best relationships need breathing space and breaks, and even the best projects come to an end. You have a lot of things on your side. You have consistently output work to an appreciative audience. You have a friendship that is also a great collaboration. That all speaks well of your talent, your work ethic, and your strengths as a collaborator. I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but if this project or this particular collaboration were to end or to go on a long break, all of those abilities that helped you create this project are still within you. This isn’t the only good idea you will ever have. You are a person who can make work and who can make friends who will make work with you. That won’t change even if this particular relationship does, so I hope in the middle of all the Jerkbrain’s chatter there is a voice saying “I am good at this work and this work is worth doing” because that is also the truth.
42 thoughts on “#562: My friend and collaborator has gone AWOL on our project. How do I get them to focus again without ruining our relationship?”
I feel your pain, LW. My collaborator’s words are saying “Yes” but her actions are saying “No” and I’m not sure which to listen to. I have no advice, just a feeling of not-alone-in-this-problemness to share.
Always listen to the actions if the words and actions are conflicting.
I agree with jenfullmoon. People’s actions will always give you a clearer picture of what you can expect from them than their words will.
Also, is it possible to see a therapist about strategies for diversifying your emotional egg economy? Keeping all of your eggs in this basket in general is a no good, very bad idea that will will probably only work, at best, transitionally while you get yourself out of this shitty life situation (which I very much hope you are working/planning on climbing out of, because even the most lovely and creative escapism will only work for so long). But if you’re putting all your eggs in someone ELSE’S basket, finding a new collaborator will just be kicking this can down the line.
In addition to CA’s list, I have another idea for a sort of stop-gap solution? Maybe you could work solo on a supplemental or spin-off to the work you’re doing with Friend? Like a stand-alone short story about a minor character, or diary entries that go along with previously written installments, in that sort of vein. So that you have something already in place to work with, and you’ll have something for your fans, that doesn’t try to replicate by yourself what you were doing collaboratively with Friend?
It’s not a long-term solution, but maybe while other things are getting figured out, to have something to work on right now?
Shiny hearts around this suggestion.
Yes – I was just about to suggest the same thing. It also helps solve the “letting down the fanbase” issue.
bluestgirlblog also covered the second sentence of my reply there… apologies for the reading comprehension fail.
I was just gonna suggest that. Semi-hiatuses can often produce some fun stuff that fans love. Maybe set up some non-canon scenarios, some goofy stuff, or open it up to character asks (where fans send your characters questions and you respond as those characters). Maybe even ask fans to submit or collaborate. Creating something is a big boost, especially if you’re sharing it, so I can absolutely understand wanting to keep producing.
LW, I am so impressed by your creativity and grit. You’re showing a lot of bravery and endurance. You are worthy of great things. Please don’t suffer in silence. I hope you’ll follow Jennifer’s great advice and talk to your Friend. Even if she says “I don’t know”, at least you will have been heard.
The impression I get is that writing is Real and Important to you, yes? That’s fine. That’s great, even. I’m so happy you found an interest in writing. You’re allowed to feel strongly about this. I just read this today: “You’re never quite alone in the company of books. There’s always a dialogue going on.” I love that. To me, it rang true today, and I hope it can do the same for you.
One idea I had, if you need a short term partner, is to maybe ask a fan or two? They would probably appreciate the chance to write with you? I mean, if one of my idols asked that I’d be super flattered and hop on the next figurative plan. I don’t know if that’s a feasible idea or something you’d feel comfortable doing, but it’s a thought.
CA’s reply seems to imply that you can handle a shared creative property alone or with a third party without wronging the collaborator, and this isn’t always true. I’ve done and tried to do a lot of collaborative work, and the outcomes when there have been breaks of followthrough have ranged from “collaborator let me continue alone with her blessing” to “amicably forking the basic idea into two different projects”. But this isn’t possible always; people get proprietary (and with reason!) about their brainchildren. I had a really bad scare about that when my current collaborator went through a dip in mental health and had sharply reduced availability and no timeline on getting better. You might be in the miserably unfortunate position of having a collaborator who feels as strongly that your mutual baby *shouldn’t* proceed *without* them as you may feel that the baby should continue in some form, whatever form may turn out to be feasible. It doesn’t sound from the original letter like this is a case where one person has retained clear creative control with the other only present as an assistant of some kind.
I have absolutely been there in the “accidentally putting too many social eggs in one co-creation basket and panicking when it starts to unweave” thing, but salvaging the specific project and continuing to have a creative/social outlet are separate problems best solved separately or everything will be under too much strain. Consider making friends you aren’t creating a thing with. Whether or not that appeals/turns out to be feasible, you might still want to co-create things: fine. Find RP partners or artists looking for practice or whatever form of creatorperson matches up to your creatingbehavior. Find *several of them*, so that when one of them flakes and another has school/work/a baby and one of them moves to the wrong time zone and another argues with you about how many misplaced commas are too many misplaced commas (or whatever), you still have people to tap. I know some avenues for creative-person-hunting if LW wants to be more specific about their creative tendencies.
I just wanted to tell the Captain that this is an excellent response.
I feel like the much bigger issue here is the overwhelming depression and being isolated and trapped in an abusive household. I truly hope that you are at least taking some small steps toward changing that, LW, because that sounds really scary and awful. Captain Awkward has some great posts on dealing with those kinds of situations. Maybe your jerkbrain is telling you that you’ll never be able to fix that stuff, but at least you can learn new ways to cope with it.
I can relate to feeling like you’re the only one in a creative partnership who is taking deadlines seriously. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing the work for free or for a small fan base or no fan base, it’s still disappointing when someone doesn’t meet their obligation to you. I know this is hard, especially with depression, but I would really recommend having several projects going at a time. They don’t have to be big projects that are going to overwhelm you. Maybe you could draw a doodle every Sunday and Instagram it, and that’s one project. Maybe you could start a personal blog where you write about whatever you want.
I have a lot of friends who are musicians, and almost all of them have their own side projects in addition to the band where they play bass or whatever. It can feel really liberating to take control of something new and know that nobody can stop you from creating it.
You’ve been able to develop a fan base with something creative you do on the Internet– that is REALLY hard and you should be super proud of that! If you can do it once, you can do it again, I promise you. What’s more, you can build on the fans you already have. This might be the start of accepting that no project lasts forever, but you will always have the ability inside of you to start something new. And new projects are always more sexy and exciting and fun, anyway.
Agreed, as much as I empathise on the collaborator stuff and appreciate that’s what you wrote in about, there are resources here for both abusive situations and depression and I hope you make use of them.
On a positive note, strength in one area can lead to increased confidence in other areas too. It’s possible that dealing with your collaborator situation directly will help shore up your self esteem at home, and it’s possible that getting help with your home situation will make the collaborator situation seem like a piece of cake. I sincerely hope this is the case for you LW. I wish you luck.
It sounds like your partner taking a break feels kind of like getting the leg of the stool you’re on kicked in. Now everything’s precarious and scary and you’re afraid. You want your original source of support to come back, and maybe she will; but even if she does, my advice is still: put more legs down. If it’s possible, the more tiny little stublets of support you can grow, the better. Individually, none of them is nearly as strong as the support you got from working with your friend; but put together, they give you a bit more stability when you’re feeling precarious, and enrich your life when you’re feeling solid.
I’ve seen a lot of people with depression fall into a set of similar jerkbrain traps when it comes to relationships, and they eventually worsen that depression and tax the bond. One of them is the idea of total fidelity: the idea that if you have other sources of happiness or support, especially with other people, your loved one will feel angry and betrayed; so relying solely on them is a mark of your love and devotion, and will increase the strength of your relationship.
Another is the idea that you’ll only get the help you need if you appear really desperate. It’s like the mental equivalent of a gym class with a really unsympathetic teacher, who’s like, “You’re not bleeding? You could walk up to me to say you’re hurt? You’re not really hurt. Get back on the field.” So if you are hurt, you have to lie where you are and scream bloody murder and not do a single thing to help yourself before they’ll take you seriously. So the mental equivalent is the fear that if you seem to be coping, even a little, they’ll totally ignore or abandon you; they might take signs that you’re finding some happiness or success or friendship without them as signs that you “don’t need them anymore”. So to maintain that friendship, you work to stay depressed and isolated, for fear that an attempt to help yourself will result in losing what little support you have.
Instead, it’s time to focus on making things better and making space for your friend to do her own thing for a bit so you’re not left hanging for however long she’s on hiatus.
LW, your fans? They like your work and they believe in you. However, your job here is not to be a faultless content-producing slave. (If any of them pretend you are, point them here.) It’s possible to use this break, and the power of social media, to even interact with your fans in a way that’s fun and enriching for both of you. You know they’re into the kind of stuff you’re into; ask them to talk about books or movies or shades of toenail polish or whatever you’re into that you think they might like! Find out what creative projects they’re doing. Get them to write what they think should happen next and post the ones you like best on your contentspace. Push past that fear of, “What if I’m not good enough? What if they find out they don’t like me after all? What if I become boring or useless?” Reach out; connect; believe that you’ve had a real hand in creating something they love, and that means something.
Just want to say I love your stool analogy, and will be keeping that in my back pocket. Thank you! :>
Yes, and thank you for elucidating the dynamic of “If I ask for help before I am absolutely immobilized with pain and misery I am LYING because I could still TECHNICALLY help myself.” LW, don’t fall into this trap! Don’t think that because you are still coping now that you don’t have the right to bring this issue up and ask for help resolving it! The point is not whether you deserve help — the point is that you get to a safer and happier emotional place where you can feel good about doing the work that’s important to you!
Can I just say, I love the analogy of the unfeeling gym teacher? I have known people like that and, when they weren’t around, my jerkbrain was happy to fill that role for them.
Wow – I’ve had that gym-teacher-worry issue so much and never realized it. This is super helpful, thank you!
Having been, at various times, the collaborator who hit a creative wall, pushed through on a project whose shiny was fading until I woke up one morning and loathed the project and everyone associated with it, or just had a massive attack of Life Stuff and/or mental health issues and could not fulfill my obligations – I would just like to say that being offered, with kindness and lack of judgement, a couple of alternatives for a graceful and adult way out is a godsend and has more than once given me what I needed to push through and wrap up a project properly or take a break and get my head clear for a fresh start.
Having been, at various times, the collaborator who got the vanishing act treatment or the “everything’s fine, my part is in the mail/on tomorrow’s to-do list/shaping up in my head” when we both know perfectly well it’s really not, I know, I KNOW how helplessly, terrifyingly ragemaking it can be. It’s NOT FAIR that you get left holding the bag on this project, with all of your own stuff to deal with too. It’s NOT FAIR that there’s pressure – pressure you’re putting on yourself, which I think is some part of why you wrote this letter in the first place; general social pressure – to be the “better person.” It sucks and it’s not fair, but it seems like what you feel you’re left with is this expectation that – Collaborator will do whatever zie wants and you will manage the fallout.
Here’s the thing: That’s only your job as far as you choose to make it your job. The two of you have a shared responsibility to this project, yes, but there’s no “last one holding the bag is a rotten egg”; there’s no “only one person gets to fall apart at a time.” The choices your collaborator is making don’t take away the choices you have.
If you can find it within yourself to be kind, offer paths to closure, a hiatus, or restructuring (note: the difference between “kind” and “enabling”), sure, you definitely should. It might give you a way to salvage the project or the friendship or both. You know what? If you can’t, that’s okay too. You’re allowed to feel lost, betrayed, enraged, confused, heartbroken. If you just pull the plug, your fans will be disappointed but they will get over it. Your artistic reputation may suffer but you can rebuild it. Your social circle could be rocked but it will recover. The project might die or change but there will be other projects, and perhaps other incarnations of this one. It is not the end of the world. Make the choices you need to make to take care of yourself and your long-term dedication to your art and your relationships. Take care of YOU.
I’m surprised the Captain didn’t address this:
“I suffer with depression, anxiety, and other physical health problems that make it hard to even get out of the house, much less find work, I am trapped an abusive household, I am broke, and I have no healthy “real life” relationships with anyone.”
Could it be that these are the real problems in the LW’s life and the loss of the project is making her feel crap, not because of the loss of the project per se, but because it’s bringing all these other things to the fore? And that the project was a helpful coping mechanism to deal with this stuff and now it might be gone? That would explain why LW is getting so distressed over the loss of this project. LW, I would suggest to (if you haven’t already) get into therapy to explore to what extent these other issues are contributing to your present distress (if you can’t physically get to one, there are counsellors who would do phone or Skype), try and find some other coping mechanisms or sources of strength and pride for you, look at strengthening your social support networks, and address this abusive situation in your home. It’s hard to give specific advice because of the lack of detail that’s been given about these things, but some good general books are “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay” by Mira Kirschenbaum, and “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. You may or may not find them helpful.
Thanks for addressing these issues, these are all good suggestions, and of course all of these circumstances are making the anxiety about the future of the collaboration worse.
I didn’t address them head on because a) almost every post on the blog since the beginning of the blog includes “treat your mental health issues like real health issues, here’s how” b) I get a surprising number of scathing emails from people about how I always recommend therapy and don’t I have any other suggestions up my sleeve? so I’ve pulled back on that somewhat and c) the actual question was about handling the collaboration and the project, not “how do I fix everything?” I want to honor the fact that the Letter Writer is producing work amid difficult circumstances and has questions about how to approach that work.
I’m so sorry you get those emails! I wish they’d keep in mind that there’s a real person on the other end with her own life. Let them try to do this. You’re so great.
Word. And also scathing email reading comprehension fail, because the counseling seeking advice 1) comes with other suggestions pretty much always and 2) much as we might wish otherwise “get a pro on your team to help you deal” is often a really good answer. As strategies go, it tends to be a really good feedback loop of support/ making the other support better/ support. I dunno. I think there are enough of us around who don’t think we deserve counseling/ are in bad enough shape for it/ don’t like the idea of it that it’s no bad thing to keep reminding the world “pros help you.”
I DIGRESSED LOTS AND LOTS.
LW I am really sorry you are having such a rough time
Re: do something else/related for a while, I think your fans might be as likely to think “OH WOW MORE CONTENT NEW THING EXCITEMINT” as they are “where is the other thing we expected?” You’re offering something new! and fun! and that’s a net benefit, really. Even if folks have to wait a while to see the return of the old format of your project.
Echoed. Also, in my experience, people who are disparaging or dismissive of therapy tend to be using that as cover for their own fear of introspection.
(If I had my way, therapy would be a compulsory rite of passage for adult life. Like national service, but with more extended silences.)
Oh no, Cap. I’m sorry to hear you’ve felt like you needed to pull back on that stuff because of pressure from (it sounds to me) silly people. I’d be worried if you did because 1) some people who write/read these letters may be first-timers who have never heard you recommend that other stuff and need to hear it, 2) it’s such basic stuff that so what if we’re all reminded of the usefulness of it every now and again, and 3) I’m pretty sure I’ve never read a letter where you only recommend therapy and nothing else. But maybe it would work if you made a separate page with your most common mental health/well-being recommendations and then just linked to that rather than have to repeat yourself every time?
Also I just want to say that some of your best letters have been the ones where you see through the “presenting” problem and to some harder-hitting truths that lurk beneath. You probably know too well that the issue/s people are fixated on, or the ones they write to you about, are often not the real problems, and that’s the great thing about you Cap – you tell people what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. I’d be sad if that went away. Not to say that the presenting problem isn’t worth commenting on or honoring, but when you see more there you don’t hold back, and that’s where the gold lies for me.
Also maybe getting therapy is a few steps out for the LW, after physical safety and making sure they have support and resources to survive. When they state they are trapped in an abusive home, it could be emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive — depending on the exact circumstances, it might be that therapy could help combat the effects of the abuse and is the first priority, or that finding therapy right now could take away the LW’s energy for finding ways to leave a dangerous situation and so is the second or third priority.
A quick perusal of this site brought up a recent post about getting moving while respecting one’s limits (what’s the difference between can’t and I’m scared don’t wanna) and a slightly less recent post about getting out of an abusive home with few resources (it’s time to get out of my abusive home but I’m afraid to accept help).
I think therapy is often vital to building coping skills for good future relationships, but finding good therapy can be exhausting and sometimes has to be second priority after more basic physical needs.
I don’t want my metaphor to minimize the very real, very significant problems the LW is dealing with right now, but I think it’s useful.
When I have my period, I *know* that I cry more easily. I *know* that little slights that in other circumstances I would ignore and let roll off my back tend to stick with me and make me feel bad. But if I’m upset during my period, it’s inaccurate to say, “oh, ignore her, that’s just her hormones talking.” Yeah, the spike in progesterone or whatever means I react more strongly than I would in another circumstance, but that doesn’t mean the thing I’m reacting to isn’t real.
Having serious mental and physical health concerns, being broke, and living in abusive household without an in-person social support network are orders upon orders of magnitude more significant than some puny little hormone spike. But the problems in the LW’s life are all of those things AND the sidelining of the project. They feed into each other. The fact of these significant other problems makes the sidelining of the project feel worse, but it doesn’t make the problems with this project/relationship less real.
This creative project and this friendship are things things the LW has invested substantial emotional energy into, and the creative project in particular is something that zie has been treating as a professional obligation, so to sense that the friend might not be treating it like that, and to feel like both the project and the friendship could be in a fragile state, would be stressful no matter what. Is it more stressful because of everything else going on? Absolutely. But it is still an issue worth addressing in and of itself.
“I am good at this work and this work is worth doing”
It is poignant and important and oh so often forgotten.
Um, may I suggest to the respondents that they switch to gender neutral pronouns in keeping with the LW’s choice?
Sure, you are absolutely correct. Edited.
As a thing to help with frustration over not being able to work on the project, maybe it could help, too, to start a few small writing-related things. Things that aren’t going to take months/years of your life, that don’t have followers. Things just for you to do to help you feel productive in writing even when you aren’t feeling productive in a big project. That way if you can’t work on the big thing but you’re really itching to write you can work on a small thing.
I do this with my creative projects and I find it really helps me. I’ll have a big project on the go (recently it was a large quilt) and a few small projects (knitting a shawl or pair of socks) so that if there is anything preventing me from quilting when I’m in Make Stuff mode I’ll still have my small things to work on so I don’t feel unproductive. It’s also really nice to have the smaller projects to finish and to feel good about finishing along the way of a project that won’t be finished for quite some time. Little triumphs along the longer road of large projects.
It also helps the time when I really mess up my large projects because I can looks at all the little ones I’ve finished during that time, and then I don’t think “all this time I wasted!” since I clearly didn’t waste -all- that time on a failed project, since I was still productive.
I guess I’m talking about putting your writing eggs in other baskets like other people have talked about putting some emotional eggs in other baskets 🙂 It isn’t about finding another big project to replace the one you’re in, just finding other small things that you don’t have the long term emotional investment in to compliment the big things you do.
This is such an excellent suggestion. I try to write a novel-length textual project every year, and there are always at least a few weeks when I can’t work on it for reasons outside of my control: computer problems, work getting crazy, travelling, moving, etc. And sometimes I just have to set down the burden of my Big Project for a while, because I’m on the verge of burning out or I just don’t have the energy for this self-imposed obligation.
Having some little projects in my mental closer keeps me from that cycle of telling myself, “oh no, I have set down Big Project and now all momentum is lost, I will never finish what I start, I have failed at everything.” The best mini-projects for these times, in my experience, have a pre-determined word count or end date so they won’t turn into a second Big Project, or else they’re something serial with obvious points for me to end an installment. Then when I reach that stopping point, I put my little project back in the closet for later and pick up Big Project again.
LW, it sounds like your friend is trying to do this, since their project has a clear end date. Maybe you would benefit from doing the same thing? Your little project could be a spin-off of what you’re working on now, or it could be something new that’s just yours.
Also, I don’t know exactly what you do, but is it something that you could schedule in advance with pre-planned breaks or a cushion of unpublished work? I know that some webcomic creators and serial writers will build up a month or two of “cushion” just in case they need to step away for a while. Others have guests fill in or have certain times of the year where they’ll be on hiatus or releasing special sections which are smaller/less complex. This is generally a good thing to do to prevent burnout, and maybe your first mini-project could be something that gets published during these breaks.
I’m not sure if this is out of line, to hazard which collaboration it might be, but just a question: does anyone read the webcomic [title deleted by moderator] Sounds like it might be a similar case there…
Yep, totally out of line! We have the veneer of anonymity here, let’s use it.
Oops, sorry, you’re right. Obviously I wasn’t thinking. My apologies.
LW, I feel that pain. I’ve been both you and the friend in the past, and it’s really really hard either way.
The project may or may not die… and it’s not really within your control. Unfortunately, your friend may just not come back to it. The captain has some great suggestions but I know that sometimes finding a new collaborator or continuing alone are not possible. So the question becomes “if I lose this project, what then?” I think maybe the best thing you can do for yourself is to start finding new things to fill that void immediately. Don’t wait to know for sure before diversifying your emotional eggs.
What’s been really helpful for me recently is thinking back to a time when I was actually happy and slowly trying to recreate it. What things used to make me happy? Some are not possible to achieve right now, that’s ok. Start with simple stuff you can do right now. The suggestion of starting new artistic projects is good, but don’t restrict yourself to only doing one kind of thing. Often I get too invested in one project to work on others of the type. But if I’m having trouble painting, I can still relax with exercise or playing the banjo. The more diverse your outlets are the more emotional security you’ll have. The catch is that depression makes it hard to think of new things that make you feel good – the jerkbrain likes to focus on how you FAILED to feel good doing THIS thing. Don’t listen to it!
ABSOLUTELY get on the mental health and general life improvements train at any rate you can, LW, but since that’s not what you asked about:
Yep. The project might die if you decide you can’t find another collaborator or can’t finish it yourself. What will you do if that happens? What will you have in place to do instead — solo work set in the same universe? a new serial story? a short story a month setup? A break because you’re so burnt out by this situation? Start thinking of these things now — it doesn’t mean you’ve “given up” on the project, the friendship, and the entire future of your creativity, forever — it just means you’re being wiser with your emotional eggs!
Also, something only you can answer: Is the serial story really what’s holding your friendship together, or is your mental illness trying to tell you that? I’m sure you have lovely qualities that made your friend want to collaborate with you in the first place, and keep coming back! You sound like you’re interpreting “a break from the story” with “A BREAK FROM ME, WOE, OUR FRIENDSHIP’S DEATH KNELL IS NIGH.” Believe me — I have depression and anxiety as well, I understand how easy it is to make that leap, but that doesn’t mean it’s a rational assumption, even though your feelings about it are real. It’s very easy to get caught up in a thought process of “chain of cataclysmic events that will Absolutely Happen if the worst case scenario of this problem happens,” and it’s your job to short it out when you notice yourself slipping into it. It’s not productive, it’s not healthy, and it prevents you from Getting Shit Done.
And you are correct when you say that your feelingsbomb about the situation is not appropriate to tell your friend, even if it’s related to the story. That is part of your illness and not something your friend is causing or can control for you.
Remember you’ve accomplished something difficult and worthwhile (a creative endeavor with a fanbase! wow! i haven’t done that yet!)! Be really nice to yourself as you figure this out. Good luck.
Yeah, I think you should do whatever solo work you can possibly do on your own. If it’s something like a webcomic or video where your friend was doing the art or camerawork and you just can’t do the visuals, write short stories in the world. Hey, if people are now reading comics after TV shows got cancelled to keep following the stories…
The Captain’s advice (and that of the other commenters) is excellent, and I want to add, LW, that you shouldn’t concern yourself too much with the disappointment of your online followers. As someone who participates in fan-generated content (both as a creator and a consumer), I can tell you that people understand. They will be sad and will miss your content if it is stopped or delayed, but they’ll get it. And some of them might even follow you to your new project, if that’s the route you decide to go. Do what’s best for you without worry for them.
I had a lot of similar feels when I had to close the small bakery I ran with my abusive ex. You feel like this is the one thing you have control of, and where you matter, and it hurts to have to feel like you are admitting defeat. But, LW, this is not defeat. It isn’t. It’s a bend in the road that you weren’t expecting, true, but you’re not defeated. I think it bothered me more to leave my customers (and they were more like fans or friends than like customers, they were great) than it did to leave my ex! So I totally get that “BUT I CAN’T LET THEM DOWN!” feeling. People are a lot more understanding than you’re giving them credit to be, and most of them can and will wrap their heads around the idea that things change because Life Happens. Take good care of you, that’s the most important thing.
I’m surprised that I agree with all of your advice. I deplore most advice dispensed beside the internet couch.
A few observations as someone with an anxiety disorder I know that requiring any kind of consideration and reciprocity from a support network/friend type person can feel like you’re about to confront a tank in Tiennaman Square with nothing between you and eternal sleep but a plastic shopping bag.
Perspective can be a dodgie concept when dealing with a brain soaked in anxiety. It’s like a mind altering street drug. You never know when you’ll score, or exactly what effect it will have when it comes on.
Rest assured the advice dispensed here is sound, very reasonable, and highly unlikely to elicit a disastrous response from your friend if they are a reasonable human being.
I also know how imperative it is to have a strong support network around you when you’re in an abusive domestic situation. Most likely this situation is responsible for your anxiety and depression, and most people don’t understand the strange new you. The good news is they probably can’t because they’ve never been in your situation. I know it sounds like an activity most cool and hip people like yourself would defer in favour of a root canal, but do contact specialist DV services in your area and find a support group to talk to. That way you ease the pressure on your friends who have little or no idea how to help you, and who are likely to get carers fatigue and end up avoiding contact because they feel bad about it.
Best of luck and take care.
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