Insolvent and Insane

June 1, 2010 at 11:55 pm (Uncategorized)

Eek – it’s June, the halfway mark of the year – horrors! It always gives me such a nasty start when I realise another year’s half over, particularly when I feel I haven’t progressed. In fact, this year I seem to be doing a nice line in professional regression, and the consequences are now starting to show. My freelance work – you know, the paid stuff – is really on the skids, and it’s one of the reasons that a longed-for overseas trip (for an informal reunion with a whole bunch of my college friends) is now off the table. I can’t go for a number of reasons, some of which are completely beyond my control, but a big one is that my income was supposed to bankroll it, and my main editor – who’s provided most of my work since I began working as a freelancer – has given me a grand total of zero commissions in the year 2010.

The timing of this sudden freelance famine couldn’t have been any worse – there was a reasonable expectation based on previous years that I would earn enough to pay for the trip, and instead there’s just a yawning vacuum where my income used to be. In January, he said there would be work in February, in February, March… on it went until finally I asked if there was some kind of problem with my work. He said no, and then made more vague noises about forthcoming work, but time keeps passing and still nothing materialises. Someone is getting the work, it’s just not me, and because he denies there’s an issue – I’ve asked a couple of times now, so I really don’t know what else to do – I have no idea why it’s all gone horribly wrong. But it’s time to face facts: the dam is dry. For whatever reason, that door seems to have closed quietly but firmly in my face. It’s all very bewildering and concerning, but my main focus needs to be finding a new regular or at least semi-regular source of income.

Part of this is my fault. I made the fatal freelance error of casually relying on this work, it came through regularly, it arrived easily, and I saw no reason for anything to ever change. And yet now it has, and I have not shored up any viable alternatives. I did not prepare for this day. I have also spent the downtime working on my fiction, instead of seeking out other potential income streams. I’ve invested all my time working on something that, I can infer with a reasonable degree of certainty, will never become a viable source of hard, cold cash. That’s the sacrifice, and I am now feeling the hard, cold consequences of pursuing the dream instead of the dinero. Consequence number one: no reunion in France for me.

And it sucks, particularly as I am not getting anywhere with the fiction. I wouldn’t mind being broke, not at all, had I any indication that my fiction writing was getting better, and might one day be worthy of a reader – all the riches in the world couldn’t compete with the happiness that thought would bring me. But there’s no reassurance that I’m getting any better at all. Another competition has just come and gone, and I again failed to crack its lists in any way, shape, or form. Both Llew and Charlotte – very sensible people – have suggested I stop entering these damnable competitions and start submitting to journals instead (I have tried this too, by the way, although not for quite a while), and perhaps they’re right. Certainly competitions aren’t working. But the glaring inference – please don’t think I’ve missed it – is that they’re not working because my stories aren’t any good, and if that’s true, then it won’t matter where I send them.

There are times when I wonder what I’m doing, and this is one of them. What I’m doing not just to myself, but to Llew, too. Because of this path I’m doggedly pursuing, a path that may never lead anywhere, I’m fundamentally affecting and in some sense limiting our lives. We’re a single income family at the moment. The burden of supporting us currently rests solely with Llew. And it’s not fair, is it? It’s not fair that he’s shouldering that responsibility alone while I continue writing into some sort of blank oblivion. We’re missing out on things because of me, and he undoubtedly feels his own options are more restricted because of me too (not that he would ever admit it, but of course this is the case). Meanwhile I write these stories and work on these manuscripts and, despite working long, long hours, to the very best of my ability, day after day after day after day, make no discernible progress of any kind. Yes, this is madness, to be sure.



  1. Norwichrocks said,

    The life of a freelancer is a tough one, no doubt about it. I tried it for a year as an illustrator and then ran, screaming, back into permanent employment. So I salute you (and Llew) for making it work for so long. This is just a temporary trough though – your work is obviously good or you wouldn’t have been in work for so long. The industry has simply contracted ENORMOUSLY over the last 12 months and everyone is feeling it. I get emails every single day from designers, editors and illustrators seeking work, and we just don’t have it. So, courage, m’dear.

    I have no idea how competitions or journals decide what to include or reward but if you’re doing your best, then that is absolutely all you can ask of yourself.

    • doctordi said,

      That is definitely true, NR, the industry in general is feeling it, and it’s probably particularly true in this case because we’re talking about a broadsheet newspaper, and we all know how well *they’re* doing these days…

      I’ve racked my brain and my portfolio for some explanation of where I might have done something wrong, and I haven’t really come up with anything. I work hard, I take every job I do very seriously, and I think I’m competent, so I hope it truly isn’t a problem with the quality of my work. I’d be a bit surprised if it was because I do take pride in everything I do. I’m a Virgo, for god’s sake. They’ve certainly been very positive about the standard in the past, so who knows? But it’s time to start flogging my wares elsewhere.

      You’re also right about doing one’s best… I guess it’s one of the reasons I keep going, because I’m determined to get better, to keep pressing on into the blizzard, probably headed straight off a cliff. But thank you, honey, your good sense and encouragement is a shot in the arm.

  2. litlove said,

    Sweetie, life is long, and this is just where you are now. Over the years, I’ve sometimes been the one to support our family (when my husband was unemployed) and sometimes he’s carried us (like now). It all evens out in the long run. And let’s not forget you are carrying your child now, which is important work; it may sound a bit 19th century, but it does deserve a mention. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, although we often won’t know what that reason is until much further down the line. But if you have the opportunity to work on your writing, I would just take it and be thankful. It’s a rare and beautiful thing. But I’m also with Llew and Charlotte on abandoning the competitions. I wonder whether they are leading you astray, trying to find ways to write to please others, when what genuinely helps is to turn inwards and see what you really need to write to satisfy your own heart and mind. It takes a long, long time to make progress with writing. It’s a life’s work. Putting so much pressure on yourself, expecting Results!, now that way madness does lie.

  3. doctordi said,

    Thanks, LL, you also know just the right things to say. Yes, I’ve been muttering to myself quite a lot about the main thing being looking after the pregnancy, and I do know how fortunate I am both to have this opportunity to follow my dream and to be pregnant outside of the usual work pressures (although not earning any money is hugely stressful).

    I also know it is privileged to the point of obscenity to moan about not being able to afford a holiday in France with my friends. Oh, boohoo, what a terrible problem to have, what a crisis – believe me, I know it’s not exactly the end of the world.

    I hope you’ll be reassured that I’m not trying to find ways to write to please others – I don’t think there’s any good that comes of that approach, and I also don’t think I could change the way I write even if I did set myself the task of trying – I’m just trying to figure out where my writing isn’t good enough, so I can work on it and learn and hopefully improve.

    It seems to me one of the only ways one can do that in fiction is to find out what readers think of what you’ve written. People who win these things, for instance, might reasonably assume they’re on the right track, or at least that on this occasion, they’ve done a good job, and they might use that experience in thinking about how to approach their next story and so on. The pity and great irony, of course, is that only winners get specific feedback; those who fail to get anywhere are largely left to wonder why, and all they can do is try again, not really knowing where they’re going wrong.

    But thank you for the reminder, LL, that this is a very, very long and very, very windy road, because there is an annoying voice in the back that occasionally pipes up and asks, “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” when we haven’t even finished pulling out of the driveway.

    I cherish my opportunity to spend my days reading and writing more than I can say – I really do. I just feel bad at times about the price of that, and who’s paying it.

  4. Grad said,

    When thy fortunes are bereft,
    And in thy coffers thou has left,
    Two pence,
    Take one and with the dole,
    Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.

    Anonymous wrote a lot of great stuff, didn’t she?

    For different reasons, I know what it’s like going from two incomes to one practically overnight. It does take some adjusting. Nothing is written in stone, though, and you are in control on this one. Writing is such a solitary pursuit, I’ve often wondered how one gets the positive feedback that is so important in any line of work. We all need to hear, “Job well done” every now and then. You may not be where you want to be in your writing, and it’s okay to say so as long as you add one little word…”yet.”

    • doctordi said,

      Anonymous really knows her shit. Thanks, Grad – you’ll be pleased to know that thanks to you, I actually went looking for hyacinths during a brief break in the weather yesterday, but the florist nearest our place refused to oblige. Still, just the hunt was cheering.

      I think that’s one of the reasons you guys are all such an incredibly important part of this process: not to say “Job well done” so much as “don’t give up” – I’m quite sure without this support and encouragement I would have collapsed in a maudlin heap long, long ago.

  5. plumbean said,

    your writing is always moving forward, even when you think it is not. and the publishing journey is funny. you feel like you are standing totally still and then bang, it all happens at once. you ARE moving forward. every day. even if you have no proof whatsoever. you are learning, thinking, understading, deciding, trying, reaching, and doing more. the day before i found an agent i wan in floods of tears thinking it had all been a waste and then, just like busses, two agents came along. it happens fast. it is just bizarre as you are in a sensory deprivation tank until it happens. you hear NOTHING. it is hard.

    know you are making headway. trust it.

    i have an award for you at the plumbean–does that help?


    • doctordi said,

      As you already know, Priya, the answer is yes, yes, a thousand times yes: it certainly did and does help. Your timing was exquisite – thank you. And I do know on a more sensible plane that of course you’re right: what a writer – any writer – needs to do to improve is write more. And I do trust that all the lessons reside in the act itself, and that – although I seem to have some sort of stubborn developmental difficulty – if I continue applying myself, I will one day improve. And that this is it, this is the path.

      Thanks so much for resuscitation effort, you darling girl.

  6. Lilian Nattel said,

    Di, I second everything LL said. The same is true here in our house. I also agree with the advice to stop entering competitions. I don’t even think you need to submit to journals at this stage. All you need to do is write if that’s what you want to do. Keep writing and the fact that you keep writing is progress and will result in better writing. I believe in you.

  7. doctordi said,

    Do you not ever struggle with that, though, Lilian…? I definitely do. I do feel the imbalance keenly. Llew is wonderful about it, and says he actually derives a large deal of pleasure from knowing I am following my heart, but I guess I always wonder, ‘Well, what about yours?’ And it’s why I feel the need to enter my work in competitions and fellowships etc – any conventional sign of “progress” is like a small offering I can make to Llew and everyone else who believes in and supports me. It’s a way of reaching for something to give back. ‘Here, thank you, this belongs to you.’

    I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to stop myself from wanting to make that gesture of thanks. I feel it here too – I want so much to be able to report something positive to you and everyone else – you say ‘I believe in you’ to me, and it makes such a difference to me, and I’d really like to be able to repay that faith by writing something good enough to warrant it.

  8. litlove said,

    One final thought: beta readers. I know you have the darklings, but you know them well now and they know you and your work well too. Critiques on work are a bit easier to take and give when complete strangers are involved. And it has always helped me enormously to have my work read. I belong to an online writing group, Litopia (Charlotte O is there too) and just recently I asked for beta readers and had five replies. It’s been a very helpful experience indeed. You and I are not strangers to one another, but nevertheless, if you wanted another perspective I’d be happy to read something. But fine if not – either way, feedback is the way forward (and goodness knows you never get any from agents and editors!).

  9. doctordi said,

    Thanks, LL. I love getting feedback, I’m very open to it. I do think, though, that writers need to manage feedback as much as any other part of their practice, and at the moment I’m still figuring out what works best for me. I’ll definitely keep Litopia in mind, though, as well as your lovely offer to read for me too. I’m pretty flummoxed to think feedback isn’t forthcoming from agents and editors… really?? I’ve been labouring under the misapprehension that providing constructive feedback to their authors is a core part of the job description!!

  10. litlove said,

    Oh I wrote that misleadingly. Yes, once you have the ‘honour’ of an agent or editor they do give feedback. In fact, getting them to stop’s the trick. I’d sent the first half of my book to my agent and she read it and replied saying ‘of course I like it. But why don’t you rewrite it in this way – which would effectively mean starting all over again, falsifying your memories and doing something you’d never thought of and have no desire to do?’ Sigh. I am ignoring her – probably at my peril, but that kind of advice is not what anyone is after. So there is much feedback but I’m not convinced it is constructive. It’s more to do with what’s selling right now and what’s obviously commercial and whilst I would by no means ignore that sort of information, I’m not about to follow it slavishly. I much prefer disinterested feedback from readers who just tell you what they liked and what they didn’t! 🙂

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