What happens when you’ve been writing a blog for seven years

Have I really been writing for seven years? Apparently so. What have I learned? How have I changed? Why has it become ever harder to sit down at the keyboard and type?

In all honesty, I cannot recall exactly why I started a blog at all. Sure they were all the rage at the time and bandwagons are always fun to ride along in. Yet I suppose there were a few things I had to say and blogging them out of my head was a suitable way of doing so. Being 2010, I wasn’t alone and soon kept tabs on upwards of 200 blogs through the magic of RSS.

I don’t follow 200 blogs any more, or rather, IĀ  follow 200 blogs that don’t update any more. There’s a handful of reliables that continue to make the week just a bit more interesting than it otherwise would be, but I can count them all on both hands. Everyone else has migrated to Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter. I burned out on Tumblr, quit Facebook for Lent once and never went back, and am just about done with Twitter. Writing on the internet just isn’t what it used to be.

This post isn’t about the state of things though. It’s about me trying to figure out where I’ve come from, where I am now, and where I may or may not be going in the future. The first part is easy: here’s an early post from 2008. Here’s one from 2009. Needless to say my writing was not something that was taken seriously.

That changed in 2010 after I saw the original How to Train Your Dragon, posted a review and somehow made the decision that I needed to write something about animation on a daily basis. Things went from there, and before I knew it I was posting almost every day, trying various content strategies to get people’s attention. Some worked, most didn’t; go figure. Yet over time, things progressed. I ‘graduated’ from Blogger to WordPress. I got my own URL. The biggest leap of all was going to a full hosted website where it’s lived ever since.

All these things built confidence and gradually the writing improved too. Simple reviews of films disappeared. More commentary entered the mix. The focus shifted from the art to the industry. If you were crazy enough to sit down and read through every post, you would travel along with me as my opinions of the artform matured and my passion became ever stronger.

Given the enormous changes that media in general were (and still are) undergoing there was no shortage of things to write about either. The temptation to spew every opinion was strong, oh so strong, but everyone began casting their restraint aside. A good opinion became no different from a loud one so it became prudent to focus more on the future and where the industry is going. I thought we were in a bubble back in 2011, and again in 2013. Four years later, I still think we’re in a bubble; we’re just a lot closer to the time that it pops.

But times, and people change don’t they? I could easily pinpoint (and I’m pretty sure I already have) when I crossed a point of no return. It was the CTN expo in November 2013. The trip was wonderful. I met a lot of really cool people, caught up with some old friends from the east coast, bought some cool art, and fulfilled a long-time dream in witnessing an episode of the Simpsons being made. Yet the trip was an awakening. The animation industry is sadly, not filled with fun and magic. It IS an industry after all, with warts and all on show for all to see. The trip really brought that home and made me realize that it appeared to me as it does a fan; something I wasn’t prepared for.

A screening of Frozen ought to have been the climax to the trip. Yet as the images flashed across the screen, and as I sat in Walt’s own cinema, a voice began to scream inside me. My brain decided it was time to act independently and save me from fate by trying to raise me from my seat. Except my eyes were rooted to the car-crash playing out before me. My carefully constructed dreams fell to pieces. Cognizant dissonance filled my head that evening as the outward exuberance of the event was mirrored by a realisation that I would never look at animation the same way again.

Such a shock (yes, it was truly a shock) prompted some soul-searching. Was this what I really wanted? I came to the US with a goal of breaking into the industry. Did this make me a failure? had I just spent six plus years chasing a pipe dream? It sure felt that way and in some respects contributed to a nervous breakdown in early 2014. (Don’t have one folks, that’s all I can say.) The daily posts halted abruptly. Animation became a sore topic for me; too painful to contemplate let alone write about. If you’ve been reading all my posts, you’ll notice this abrupt change in topics and overall tone. You’ll see some contempt creep in, and a much more pessimistic attitude too.

No piece of animation from today or yesteryear seemed to convince me that the artform wasn’t a lost cause. To describe it as disenchantment would be an understatement; it was much closer to hatred. The effects continue to linger. I have not seen any Disney or Pixar film at the cinema since Frozen, and only recently have I begrudgingly watched films like Zootopia or Inside Out. (No, I didn’t like them.) Two pieces of animation that did convince me that it was worth pursuing though were Kill la Kill, and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. I’ll skip the details, but something about both spoke to me and convinced me that I would be a fool to give up.

Not really knowing what to do or even where to start, I reached out to Fred Seibert. Now I have no problem stating that Fred’s a personal hero of mine, but his advice wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I met him:

“Go make a cartoon!”

Was it really as simple as that? Apparently yes, it was. Thus began a different path on the same journey called life. Suddenly, writing about animation took on a different role than previously. The opinions continued, just now for Jerry Beck’s Animation Scoop. My own contemplations became more philosophical as my mind whirred on the kind of animated future it saw for me.

Over time though, as production on the short film progressed and the various trials and tribulations of such an endeavour passed by, thinking of things to actually write about got ever harder. One can only decry the state of American animation, or praise the European indie features for so long before it becomes repetitive. You can only see the headline ‘X Easter Eggs Pixar Put in Their Films that You Didn’t Know About‘ so many times before your eyes just glaze over completely and your mind slips into a coma. The industry in general has also fallen in line with the wider media business when it comes to business models. Big-budget features rule the box office, indies get a peek in and nothing more, Netflix dominates VOD, and YouTube slowly strangles the individual creators who made it what it is.

Artistically, animation seems boring to me now, but not because I’m actually bored, but more so because it doesn’t excite me in the same ways it used to and consequently isn’t pushing me along creatively as it once did. Even TV shows all seem so similar. Writing about something that doesn’t really interest you is difficult, and my one post a week for Jerry is about as much as I can muster as of late. What energy remains is normally too little to make a meaningful post. There are more than a few half-finished drafts that will never see the light of day.

So where does that leave things now? I admire David Levy simply saying he’s gone fishin’, but this does not seem like it’s the end of anything. It does however, feel like the beginning of something. I don’t know what that something is, but it would be a mistake to say that it hasn’t been a culmination of effort that isn’t going to lead anywhere.

My short is almost complete. It’s based on a very funny comic called Space Base 8 by David S. Smith. It too had some hiccups, but the end is in sight and I’m very pleased with the result. It’s been a transformative experience that’s for sure. I’ve an enormously increased respect for everyone that does this on a daily basis. It’s brought change in other ways too. My goals are not what they once were. The roles I aspired to once are not the ones I aspire to now. There’s a new and brighter future in store, it’s just taken a winding road to be able to finally see it.

It’s taken a good seven years to get this far, through all the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows. I suppose blogging the entire time hasn’t been such a bad idea after all.

7 Comments on “What happens when you’ve been writing a blog for seven years

  1. Well congratulations! I think you started just before I did, so I know how hard it is to keep it up. I look forward to seeing your cartoon, and it may inspire me to do the same!

  2. Congrats!! I think I was one of your first readers, and while I haven’t read EVERY post I checked in to read your stuff every now and then. I similarly lost a great deal of passion for animation that I had way back in 2010 because of the “safe” paths big studios have taken, but in hindsight I question why I ever thought big businesses would take huge risks. Maybe a lot of it was tied to what Pixar represented then and what it does now. Either way, there is always hope to be had. I think Netflix is doing interesting things, and even my favorite animator David O’Reilly is still doing great work. I wish you all the best on your short and hope to see it soon!!

  3. It’s pretty easy to be disillusioned with the way things are going. I’m sure we were all going on about how the Internet and cheap software were going to democratize the industry; instead they’ve stratified the big dogs and nudged them towards putting all of their resources into nostalgia revivals and “follow the leader” type films, while smaller players have to keep shopping around between different platforms for production and distribution.

    We have the infrastructure to support more indie and foreign films and the means to make more of them, especially with smaller crews and budgets. We also have the ability to provide a platform to connect curious audiences to the content they want through systems such as tagging and big data and provide an encouraging atmosphere. I think the biggest problem is that the people with the means to do it just lack the will.

  4. Thank you for writing such a candid post, Charles. I’ve followed your blog for a few years and have felt a similar frustration with the direction of animation as a medium. Like you, I don’t retain too much hope for the medium in its current state. I also once obsessed about the day-to-day news of the animation business, and wondered where I might fit into that process somehow.

    Truthfully, the farther away I get from whatever is calling itself “animation” these days, the happier I become as an artist. If the artwork I produce happens to include animation, then that’s fine. But I’m becoming more interested in work that is personal and emotional, and animation has become largely hostile to that type of expression.

    I’m glad to hear that your short is progressing. I hope that it brings you great satisfaction, and I look forward to reading your thoughts about the process.

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