I Quit

I've been plugging away at this particular phase of my artistic life for about 7 years now. I've spent the majority of this time trying to write good songs and to get people to listen to them.
  
Songs like George R.R. Martin Is Not Your Bitch, The Millennium Falcon For Christmas, Summer Glau & Steampunk Girl found niche audiences and helped me to obtain whatever notoriety that I have.  It's been great.  Those songs are the reason that I'm able to communicate with you right now, and I couldn't be more grateful.
  
But there's a dark side...

For every song that got a lot of attention, for every write-up on Tor.com or io9, for every opportunity to open for Paul & Storm and Molly Lewis, it left me wanting more.  It left me feeling like I deserved more.  That's a dark place to be.  

So, after months of consideration, I've come to a conclusion:

I'm quitting.

Let me clarify.  I'm not going to stop composing and performing music. I'm quitting the race.  I'm getting off the nerd music ladder.  I just don't want to be in that head space anymore.  

I've come to the realization that in regards to my artistic life, there are only two things that matter to me:

1.  Enjoying the act of making new music
2.  Talking to you about the creative process 

That's it.  I've gotten so much out of all of the little conversations that we've had via e-mail/Twitter/Facebook.  I want to focus on that as much as my music.  I'm almost more proud of the fact that I've helped to facilitate conversations about creativity in this community, then I am about my music.  

With that being said...

Where are you at in your own creative life?

Please share your thoughts by replying in the comments below.  

Have a great week!
John Anealio

52 comments:

  1. I got to admit, John. The second I saw the title, I freaked out. I thought you were giving up on music altogether, and I was going to write this long arse post about why you shouldn't.

    But then I read the post, and it all started to make sense :P

    As for me: I'm in a kinda stagnate phase at the moment, and that's mostly because I'm working two jobs, one of which is more than fulltime. So it gets a bit hectic around here. Teaching is rough!

    But I'm still plugging away, however slowly, and that's what matters :)

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    1. Thanks Shaun. Didn't mean to alarm anyone. I've been feeling this way for a long time, but I felt like I needed to communicate these feelings in public. I'm not surprised to find that a lot of people have similar feelings about their own creative paths.

      I hear you about teaching. I've been teaching elementary school for many years, and it wipes you out!

      Good luck with everything Shaun!

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  2. Whoa. I was just as surprised, and worried, as Shaun was.

    As far as my creative life, I have a multiplicity of interests and desires, and not enough time to devote to them. This frustrates me. I need to find the time to make the time to do the things that interest me. Photography. Writing. Mapmaking.

    If the escalator isn't fun, if it turns dark, then its a place that's not healthy for you. Realizing when something isn't working for you, and changing it, IS healthy.

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    1. That's always the problem isn't it Paul? Finding the time to do all of the things that we'd like. You are kicking ass with your book reviews!

      In terms of Photography, feel free to do a Photography nerd column at Functional Nerds. Might help you to focus on that if you feel like other people are with you on your journey.

      Thanks for the advice Paul. I need it right now.

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  3. So, you're quitting freelancing your songs, but might still share some fun ones with us?

    As for "the race," I don't want that pressure either, and I'm fighting that daily. My first child on the way is going to be a shocker as far as perspective on writing versus family. I wish the two did not conflict, but I feel like I have to get my 10k hours and first four books finished... yesterday, so I can write full time. Wait, I write during my day job, so I'm already doing that, and still filling my evenings with catching up on my to read pile and managing my podcast. Taking over Adventures in SciFi Publishing has been awesome, but has also escalated the nerd ladder status and subsequent pressure.

    As a teacher, you're in the break part of your year. I hope you get to enjoy that, and I wish you the best in this new stage.

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    1. Hey Tim,

      I still plan on writing lots of music and sharing them with everyone. I'll still take commissions too. I just don't want to think about "making it" anymore. It was making me miserable and effecting the quality of my work. If anything, I'm hoping that adopting this attitude will improve the quality and quantity of my work.

      You've certainly got a lot on your plate!

      Having kids is a huge responsibility, but you'll figure it out. You may find that you'll be more productive.

      Thanks for the kind words Tim.

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  4. When I was a teenager, my bass guitar teacher told me a story about practice, though, as you'll see, it can be applied more widely.

    A novice at a Buddhist monastery is told by his master to ring the temple bell five-hundred times. He approaches the enormous bell, swings his mallet and thinks, "Wow! That's pretty loud!" He swings again and thinks, "This mallet is kind of heavy." He swings again and thinks, "Man, this is going to take a while."

    After about four-hundred and fifty swings, the only thing he's thinking is, "Ring the temple bell. Ring the temple bell. Ring the temple bell."

    I think you've been ringing the temple bell for a while, John, and so have I. I've been thinking along similar lines lately. When I started, twenty-two years ago, I thought, "I'm gonna make it big some day!" Fifteen years later, I thought, "I'm right on the cusp of making it big!" Today I think, "I'm probably not going to make it big. I'm going to just keep writing stories, day in and day out to my grave. If no one buys my novel, if no one buys my stories, I'm still going to write my stories day in and day out."

    Ring the temple bell.

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    1. Matthew, I absolutely needed to hear that story. Thank you. It sums up the way I feel perfectly. Such an eloquent way of putting it.

      The funny thing is, when I started playing music when I was a teenager, I never realistically thought that I would "make it". It just seemed that too much was out of your control. It felt like playing the lottery. I wasn't interested. I just wanted to master the craft of playing guitar, composing and writing songs. I didn't care about making it. In fact, most bands that I was in when I was younger, broke up because I always felt like the other guys would be too concerned with making it, and not concerned enough with being good.

      A funny thing happened though, after years of work, I actually got some where with it. LIke you said, I started to feel like: "I'm right on the cusp of making it big!" I've been stuck there for a few years now. It's a dangerous place to be. You start to feel like: "I deserve to be a part of that club". The problem is, you can't convince people to let you in. And if you try, you really come off looking like a desperate jerk (I feel like I've been guilty of doing that on occasion, and I hate myself for it).

      So, that's why I'm here now. I have no intention of stopping what I'm doing. I just want to get back to focusing on mastering my craft and I want to forget about "making it". I'm going to get back to: "Ringing the temple bell".

      Thanks again Matt

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  5. I understand exactly how you feel. After the success of my books and everything I've accomplished online as a blogger, I'm glad the next one will be my last. I've actually been doing more with my own music, playing in a band, and the pressure there is nothing compared to the writing.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback Alex. Is the next book going to be your last for good, or for the forseeable future?

      Good luck with your music! Would love to have a listen if you post any of it online.

      Sometimes, a change in attitude is all we need to be re-ignited.

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  6. I get that, though it's still a shame that trying to do something with your creativity made you feel that way.

    I decided to take a break from novel-writing after my first failed to sell to anyone eight years ago and bar a couple of abortive attempts at NaNoWriMo I haven't really tried again. That makes me sad and I want to get back to that person who writes creatively almost every day but I'm not sure how to get there. At least these past few years I've had my book reviews, so I'm writing again. It's a start.

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    1. Well, I'm hoping that changing my mindset will get me back to feeling the joy in creating.

      The book reviews are a great way to keep that writing habit going. Well, take a page out of my book and just write for yourself, even if no one else reads it. Ultimately, we create for ourselves and if we're lucky, some other people will get something out of it too.

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  7. A story.
    Kate Bush, made it big in England many a year ago. She was amazing. Had several big hits, several albums. Then, well, stopped. She decided to just live her life. She continued to write music. Slowly. She still does. And every once in a while an album sneaks out. And she still has her life.
    Live your life with the space to do what you love. Enjoy yourself. Write. Sing. Laugh. Play. And when you are ready... your music will climb onto your back and not release you until you get it down. And it will be great.
    Peace.

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    1. Thank you James. That is a beautiful way of putting it.

      And I can deal with being the male, American version of Kate Bush. :-)

      How are things with you? Have you harvested any honey lately?

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  8. Sounds like you had something of an epiphany. Good.'

    Where am I at?

    I'm making a shift in my own career. I'm starting a company (Quiver and Arch, LLC) with a friend of mine to produce audio dramas. We're getting paid for it, and we're paying our voice talent. We even have a signed contract with a client. If he likes the result, he's got enough scripts to keep us working for years.

    I've had "sour grapes" feelings about things like the Parsec awards, and the success I see other podcasters having in what I consider "my" niche who haven't been doing it as long as I have. But here's the thing...it's not "my" niche. I don't own it, and I don't deserve any notoriety or fame just because I've been doing it longer than everyone else.

    It feels that way, sometimes, though.

    Maybe finding a sub-niche that doesn't seem to have _anyone_ in it is an admission that I'm not mature enough to comfortably allow others their success. I don't know. All I know is, I'm excited by this change in direction.

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    1. Indeed I did Nobilis.

      The audio drama company sounds great! Good luck with it, and if you need some instrumental music, I know a guy. :-)

      I undersatnd the sour grapes thing. I actually worked through a lot of this some time ago, I'm just sharing my feelings with everyone now.

      Glad to hear that you are excited about your new direction, it sounds great.

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  9. "All good things must come to an end." But I suppose this is NOT an ending! It does appear you are finding personal growth, and I am confident that these honest feelings will make you a better artist in the end. I will miss your catchy riffs and delightful lyrics, for the nerd/geek world is indeed a creative one and I believe inspiring those to participate is perhaps the noblest of goals. I wish you well in your artistic journey and I hope to see your work again in the future sometime! Stay in touch with your fans!

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    1. Thanks!

      It's likely that I will still be writing nerdy songs, I just don't want to worry about "making it" in the nerd music world. Chances are, I'll still write songs like that, because that's who I am! I just want to be open to doing all kinds of different things and to most importantly, enjoy it!

      You'll still be hearing from me on a consistent basis too. Chance are, you won't really see much difference in my output or communication, I just wnated to share where my head was at. Thanks again!

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  10. That is very honest, John. Thanks for sharing. I think I get it. In the past year I convinced my employer to let me launch a digital publishing imprint. There are hugely fun parts, mostly meeting and working with the authors, who are such interesting people. Also putting out good stuff we are proud of. But helping people find what you are putting out and hoping they are interested, that is hard stuff. I all to well understand the "desperate jerk" feeling and how much that can damage how I see myself. So I understand. I hope you have more fun and make some music you are proud of. I think you will.

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    1. Thanks Josh,

      That's awesome that you were able to launch a digital publishing imprint. Good luck with it. Yeah, it's hard getting people to notice what you are doing and none of us want to come off as desperate jerks. :-)

      My hope is that I'll make even more and better music. Thanks for the encouragement and for sharing your story!

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  11. I read the blog of another musician also. I really like his music and was really sad that he was also feeling really frustrated trying to get his music heard. However, it sounded like from his last post that he took the opposite path - giving up on music altogether. I'm glad you have found a solution that keeps bringing music to the world. I think that it really matters.

    As for myself, I continue to put out my podcast. I also struggle to work on writing. I have other projects that sometimes take priority, but at least with the podcast there is a regular schedule. (I guess I should give credit to those projects too, since almost every single one is creative.) I really enjoy hearing so much new music and interacting with musicians. I have found that having an audience is something that I crave, even if it isn't a very big audience. Perhaps it is just the feeling of approval for what I am making. Anyway, I wish you luck and am glad to see that you have taken this path.

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    1. Thanks Felicia!

      What's the name of your podcast?

      I'm grateful to have Patrick Hester as a podcast partner. Because of him, we've consistently put out a weekly show for over 3 years now.

      Part of writing this post was to acknowledge the fact that there are many, many people in this community who already like what I do. I want to focus on appreciating them and not worrying about this mystical "larger audience". :-)

      Best of luck with all of your projects Felicia!

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  12. I've managed to get my notes and written scenes for some fanfiction I've been working on together, and edited into a complete chapter, and posted on the web. I've also been trying out various photoshop projects that are described in the stack of magazines, I've got sitting on top of my bookshelf.

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  13. I've had to redefine what I thought success was. As a screenwriter/novelist I thought getting a film produced or a book published was the be-all-end-all. Until I did and discovered the hard work was the marketing. Conventions are about seeing celebrities. Everyone is giving their work away in attempt to be noticed. Everyone has a blog, a feed, etc. Not everyone has their own radio or TV show. Carving a space out for yourself begins closest to you. I had to be okay with doing the work and getting joy from that instead of constantly hustling.

    Keith Richards said in his book that he didn't worry about the people around him abusing their positions or stealing from him, because those people took care of all the business stuff and enabled him to make music, and that is all that ever mattered to him. The Stones lived on nothing for years before they were famous. And only a select, lucky few see that kind of fame.

    I do what I have time to do. But writing is something I have to do, whether anyone reads it or not. If I only reach 25 people, it's okay. I'll just dedicate myself to the work and those 25 people.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences Sheila!

      That's exactly what I'm doing. Instead of worrying about "making it", I'm going to focus on serving all of the folks who already like what I do. I'm very fortunate to have a lot of people in this community who seem to get something out of what I do and I'm committing to serving them.

      Best of luck with everything!

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  14. John,
    Like a few others here, I freaked a bit when I saw the post title, but I understand this is more about you adjusting your attitude than changing what you do. Selfishly speaking, I find that a great relief. You're a very talented musician and songwriter, and we'd all be poorer without your music.

    BTW, if you ever acted like a "desperate jerk," I must have missed it.

    I don't think it's possible to put your work out in public and not crave recognition and success. For me, I remember one podcaster in particular who got a podcast novel picked up by a publisher, and it bothered me for a long time that this person's book got picked up and my podcast novel didn't. I'm not proud of that, and I've never spoken about those feelings in public before now. I won't even say which author it was, as I don't want to make myself look even more petty. My point is that feelings just are, and sometimes we can't help them.

    As far as my creative endeavors, I am shopping my ghost hunter novel, tentatively titled "And Ghosts Return", to agents right now and gathering the requisite rejection emails. I've finished one short story this year that I want to give one more edit and then send out to market. I'm 5800 words into another but am stuck on how to end it. I plan to outline a new novel within the next week or so and start writing it with a goal of finishing this calendar year. At the least, I want to be able to honestly report solid progress at Dragon*Con. I've released seven podcast episodes this year, not as many as I'd have liked, but respectable.

    I continue to hope for traditional publishing success, but as everyone else here has said, there are only so many hours in the day to divide between family, day job, exercise, my civic volunteer work, writing, editing, prodcasting, promotion, reading, relaxation, and (incidentally) sleep. I know I don't work as hard at writing and promotion as many of my peers do, and that's held me back. I just do what I can do.

    Congratulations on your epiphany. I look forward to hearing your future work and discussing life over beer at Balticon next year.

    Tim

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    1. Thanks Tim, that's exactly what it is, an attitude adjustment. And it means a lot to me that you care about my work, I appreciate that.

      Yeah, I realize that it's natural to crave attention and I still do, I just want to put it in the proper proportion. Glad to hear that I never came off as a desperate jerk to you. I felt that way sometimes.

      You're right about feelings. They're not right or wrong. They are what they are. But we can work on how they effect us, which is what I'm trying to to do.

      Best of luck with all of your projects and I look forward to that beer next year. :-)

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  15. Adam WarRock said something on Twitter the other day about the reason he makes music: because the music he wanted hadn't been made. Which I think is the reason why I make the things I make. Sure, there's plenty of fantasy & sci-fi out there, but nobody else is telling the stories that are in my head, so I kind of have to do it. Sometimes it's enough that I'm telling the stories, and I don't care if anybody reads them or not. Most times, it's not enough. Creating in a vacuum with no feedback is a lot less fun, but it's not like I have a choice. I have three unfinished novels sitting here and nobody's going to help me finish them except me. Whether I'm enjoying the process right now or not, whether anybody ever reads the books or not, is irrelevant. Nobody else is going to tell these stories. Common sense tells me I should quit if nobody's reading what I write. I generally listen to common sense, but where my creative life is involved I tend to plug my ears.

    I've been having a lot of long, vivid, complicated dreams lately, which is generally a sign that something's not working right in my life. I'm trying to figure out if that something is my work process. I know I haven't been writing often enough lately, but I also haven't been reading enough. I'm trying to fix both of those. I just hope I'm choosing the right direction to go in.

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    1. Thanks for chiming in Trina!

      I am extremely fortunate in that there are quite a few people that like what I do and always give me feedback on what I'm doing. I'm grateful for it. It's actually the reason why I'm doing this, I want to focus on those people, rather than some mystical "bigger audience".

      Best of luck with your writing and getting back on track!

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  16. John -

    I completely get this. I had a similar moment very recently, which you can read about here is you wish.

    http://www.michaelmerriam.net/2013/07/09/the-power-of-story/

    I think as artist,we all go through this, a moment where we realize we've lost sight of what is really important to us, or that moment when we understand the ridiculous pressure we've put on ourselves with our expectations, and then we set aside the pressure and get back to creating the thing we love.

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    1. Thank you for sharing Michael. I love the Bull Durham analogy. Very appropriate.

      And that's exactly what I'm doing. Stripping away the pursuit of fame and focusing on the art and the connection with other folks.

      Thanks again!

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  17. No matter what anyone says, John, I consider you " a huge bucket of win" as the mighty Kevin Smith says. Creating for the sake of expressing yourself is art at it's purest and most direct. Fame is nice but it is fleeting at best. I would much rather have you chasing that golden ring for your own satisfaction than for some focus group or record company.

    Onward and upward!
    Patrick

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    1. Thank you Patrick. That means a lot coming from you.

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  18. Wow, like a few of the others, my first impression was that you were leaving everything... That would be so awful. But I have to congratulate you on listening to what you are feeling, and trying to follow it, as it is one of the most difficult things to do. And thank goodness you are NOT quitting music!!

    As much a things have changed and made life easier for us (in this part of the world), it is also more difficult, simply because there are so many of us. It is easier to put ourselves "out there" and do our creative thing, but it is also easier to get lost in the throngs of everyone else doing it also. But it is possible. (I'm told... lol...)

    And in these times where economy is not always in our favor, we are often told that listening to our feelings and hearts is frivolous and not practical. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Paradoxically, while making a living is nothing BUT practical, and absolutely necessary, it can be a handy stimulus for creativity, and can push you to listen to those feelings because it's all you have...

    I very likely have made no sense at all, but the short of it is, I'm so glad you are not leaving us, John, and that you'll stick with your music, wherever it takes you. :-)

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    1. Thanks Ingrid!

      Seth Godin wrote a great blog post called: "Doing What You Love (But Maybe You Can't Get Paid For It)" It really speaks to a lot of what I'm feeling and what you just wrote about. It's worth a read.

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  19. I'm glad to hear that you are not giving up on music, which would have been depressing, but just giving up on approaching it with a particular mindset, which is surely a good thing. Your own satirical music has been inspiring to me as I've sought to create some of my own. I'm a university professor, and so my colleague and I have both lately been coming up with some original songs as well as parodies of existing ones that try to convey points about important subjects such as information literacy. Here's one example:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMlDQlsna1U

    I'm fortunate enough to be able to do musical things as a hobby, and be doing something else that I love which can flow naturally into music, but doesn't depend on it. I hope you find a way to keep doing what you love, and have it appreciated by increasingly large audiences!

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    1. Thanks James!

      That's awesome that you've been able to integrate your musical interests into your profession. Thank you for sharing.

      I think I'm on the right track to finding the right balance for these things. Thank you for the kind words and the advise.

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  20. John--

    I'm relieved to read that you're taking the pressure off yourself. Congratulations on retaking the helm.

    As far as where I'm at, I owe you some thanks. Your "23 in 2013" challenge post, back in December or January, got me off the fence and I started submitting stories. Last week I made my first sale, to Cast of Wonders. I'd probably still be tinkering and polishing without that challenge, so thank you.

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    1. You are very welcome Darin! And congratulations! Best of luck with your future writing.

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  21. John, your music is terrific! I'm still waiting to see (or have I missed it?) a song commemorating New Horizons' arrival at Pluto in 2015. Keep up the good work!
    Michael Clifford
    Charleston, WV

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    1. I have not wrote a song about that yet, but anything's possible.

      Thank you for the kind words Michael!

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  22. John, I had that same revelation a few months back. Not quitting writing, but quitting the race. I just wanted to try to write every day and enjoy the creative process, and not worry about all of the other stuff that tends to bleed in on that. I can't say that I've done that perfectly, but backing away from some of the more obvious stuff has helped. In fact, it was freeing. I hope it is for you, too.

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    1. Thanks Jamie!

      Glad to hear that I'm not alone in coming to this conclusion.

      Best of luck with everything.

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  23. Silly as it sounds, I want to congratulate you on reaching that realisation; too many people I know kept trying to push on until they were burnt out, and ended up resenting what they were doing. Knowing when to take a step back is not an easy thing, and well done for being brave enough to do it!

    At present, I'm still plugging away at my novel, I'm about 5ft into a 20ft scarf (I need to think before agreeing to knit things in future!), and I just launched a new podcast with a couple of good friends. Just little things to keep us going, and hopefully people will enjoy them too :)

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    1. Thanks Laura!

      Great to hear that you are making progress with your projects. Best of luck with everything!

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  24. great that you acknowledge when it is time to move forward creatively ;-) The greats all do it.

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  25. This post has a very scary title, but as long as you're still making music, than all is right in the world :) Promotion can be hard and it gets in the way of creating. It's hard not to get sucked into that trap.

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  26. I wasn't sure what to say about the post when I first read it, but I just listened to the last Functional Nerds podcast, where you discussed this post once again and I realized I did have something to say ;)

    I basically agree with you and Patrick in different ways, but I think the one thing that I wanted to mention is that if you are enjoying what you do, it'll come through, and I think success will happen. People feel passion and respond to it, so I think in some ways if you do want to one day really "make it", you're going about it in the right way.

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    1. Thanks Jessica!

      I'm in the process now of clearing everything away and setting things up so I'm only creating things that I'm passionate about.

      Hope all is well with you.

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