One of the recurring themes of my blog is how to reconcile our image of what a writing job is with what it really is. It is recurring because it’s something that keeps changing and also something I keep working on.
Working on? Well, yes. Because you see, how to keep writing and what writing is, and what it means and how to motivate yourself changes with your career and how you face things. For instance, when you’re first breaking in and your income is effectively zero, it’s almost impossible to fend off home distractions. Why? Well, because even if you intend to make it a full time, paying job someday, for now it is essentially a hobby. So, if your husband needs you to find the car insurance forms in one of the many boxes never unpacked after you moved, or even if your husband – or kid – has an hankering for banana bread, you feel like a right b*tch if you close the office door and go on writing instead of doing what they’d like. (Mind you, I did this a lot. You have to, or you’ll NEVER have a paying job. OTOH I only did it about once every three times. So, habits formed. Bad habits all around, when the next change set in.)
And the next change is when I started getting paid, but we didn’t need the money for our living expenses. I mean, it was nice, but my making or not making two hundred a year was not going to make a difference. It was maybe two dinners out and a movie. But I was getting paid, which encouraged me, and I tried to stay with writing.
Then came pro writing which pays not much, but pays enough to make the difference in our lifestyle between ‘close to the bone’ and ‘we can occasionally repair the car.’
It also requires a lot more concentration and a lot more decision on my part. Because habits have been formed with the kids and even my husband (though of course, he’s a grown up and much better about this) about what is my responsibility and also how I’ll herd them and keep them on track when they let things go, I’m still expected to do a certain number of things around the house that often interfere with or get on top of my writing schedule. Like… make sure college applications go out in time. (Yeah, dropped that this time. So… Well, at least he got in one.)
Beyond that, for me to make enough to be significant, I’ve had to do more than one book a year. The average is usually four, but sometimes six. I also, not unusually, was researching and writing the next set of proposals, otherwise when I finished the books, I had NOTHING to do. If you count proposals as half-books (they are. I have to get in the voice, which is half of a book’s work) I actually wrote more like between six and eight books a year… For the last ten years.
I know you people tend to think I get sick a lot. I actually don’t, not compared to other people my age. It’s just that I don’t have time to stop when I do. Which means being sick for two weeks drags overdue work up to six months, as the deadlines ALL pile up.
Still, I’ve managed to do this for ten years, and I’ve formed this self image as the little engine that could.
And then this year, I hit a snag. Actually it started at the end of last year (properly speaking, it probably started right after I had pneumonia fifteen years ago. The meds that saved my life have peculiar side effects, and that’s when my weight went out of control and I started having night sweats so bad that I sometimes had to get up and change my nightshirt twice.)
However, doctors didn’t think there was anything wrong with me, and well… Your body changes with time, right? Until a little over a year ago when my hair started falling out by the handful – not enough to leave me bald, but enough to thin my (fortunately quite abundant) hair to about half the thickness. With this came an inability to concentrate and other issues.
I’m a woman. I’m almost fifty. I thought “menopause” and so did the three doctors I saw about the issues. Only they kept getting WORSE, particularly the inability to sleep at night and the issues with concentration. It felt like going insane, and here’s the thing, if I can’t concentrate I can’t WORK. And if I can’t sleep, I can’t think straight.
So in desperation, and after getting three months late on delivering the second book in the vampire musketeers’ series, I went to the doctor. And discovered I was not menopausal. What might be happening, on the other hand, is still open. I should know by the middle of next month, hopefully. Some paliative measures have made it possible for me to sleep at night and think, about as well as I normally do.
At the same time, starting in January, we started getting nibbled by ducks. “Nibbled to death by ducks” is my expression for the little things that get in the way of writing. You do one thing here, one thing there, you look back and the day is gone and nothing accomplished. I finally lost it and got an office in March because otherwise no writing happened. I was averaging two hours at the desk for writing, while TRYING to do it pretty much every waking moment.
The yearly nibbling has been stuff like deaths in the family but also a bunch of piddly stuff, like appliances failing, cats getting sick and home maintenance stuff – just a lot of it.
The office was cheaper per month than what I usually do to deal with this situation, which is take a week off at a hotel and I figured it would give me the same thing – a space where I’m isolated and allow my mind to enter the dream-writing state again.
It worked. Sort of. The office is a modified closet, which is no big deal. How much room do a chick and her computer need? BUT it linked to two other offices via hollow doors (permanently closed.) The problem with these is that you hear EVERYTHING. And one of my neighbors seems to do most of his business via phone. So, this weekend with the help of a mattress pad cut in two (Hey, I’m only renting, and it’s temporary. I don’t want to spend a lot of time) and two giant cork boards, I insulated the place. Good, right?
Yeah, only last week I couldn’t use the office at all. I didn’t tell y’all this, because it was a bad thing to announce over the net while it was happening, but my husband and my younger son were both out of town on separate business trips. This required me to be within reach of a computer, if they needed me to find out something for them, (like, fix my son’s cell phone account.) So I was home pretty much every day. No problem, I said. “I’ll go to the office every day next week.”
So, yesterday, I take a nice Sunday walk with older son and halfway through it… Yep. I have a bad case of stomach flu. This makes the idea of going to the office semi-daunting. At the same time I feel I should go.
There have been consequences to my scatter brainedness. For instance, the publishers of the vampire musketeers cancelled books two and three two weeks after book one came out. Now, while I was late with book two – by five months – I was literally about to finish it and send it in (a week, maybe.) I understand they’re a small company and perhaps they couldn’t handle the delay. I don’t know.
The money wasn’t much per book, and the series itself requires a certain mind set I was having trouble getting into. I worked on it for six months and until I got the office, what I had was… disjointed and possibly stream of alien consciousness. (Well, it wasn’t MY consciousness.) It doesn’t affect me much monetarily and in many ways it’s a relief, allowing me to concentrate on the space operas my mind wants to write. It upsets me because of readers, but Sword and Blood is a complete book plus a teaser, so if you don’t read the teaser for the next book at the end, you still get a full novel. Besides, the other two will get published when rights to the first revert. (I promise.)
BUT it goes against my image that I do not break contracts; I never fail to deliver (even when health and other things make me horribly late); I’m the little engine that could.
I didn’t realize how much I was beating myself up over this until I read Kris Rusch’s column this week. (Read the whole thing, you owe it to yourself.) I owe Kris this type of sanity check more times than I can mention.
When I took their professional workshop, I was in the first group and didn’t have the game they introduced later, a game that attempted to simulate the effect of luck and chance in a writing career. You got life rolls – your health went out of kilter; your relatives died; your house burned down and you had to continue working around them, which meant sometimes stopping working and dealing with them.
Kris’ column is just about that, and it made me realize I did what I could, there was no more I could do, and writing is not a suicide pact. I can’t write with a mind not affected by health issues and distractions. My mind is in my body, and both are the only ones I have.
Did that make me stop beating myself up? Ah! Don’t I wish. So, does that mean that since I have the stomach flu today I won’t be going to the office? I don’t know, I haven’t decided because I don’t know how bad it is today yet. To figure that out I need to be on my feet and doing stuff.
But I’m trying to follow Kris’ rule and – given I can’t infect anyone at my office – if I’m doing okay I might go down and work half day – in other words, do what I would do if I had a real job. If I’m not doing okay, I’m going back to bed.
I’m trying to understand life rolls and not complicate them by keeping trying to push through them. It’s not easy. I don’t know if I’ll manage it. But I’ll try. I’ll try to treat myself as a person and be kind to myself. I’m my own boss, but I’m only the only employee I have. Abusing myself will just end the business.
You know what? As guilty as I feel over paying for the office, then not going in for over a week – I think I’ll go back to bed. Tomorrow is time enough to work, and I’m more likely to be able to if I don’t make myself sicker.
Good night, y’all.