The Struggle to Keep Writing

Sometimes, keeping writing is a struggle. I know all the arguments for keeping going. The ones based in passion, in professionalism, in the need to pay my bills. I know that once I start writing the words will eventually flow. I know that sometimes you’ve got to write crap and refine it into something sophisticated later. All of that is there in my head whenever I sit down at the keyboard. But some days it’s a struggle to keep going. When you’ve been locked up in the house for days without direct human contact. When your understanding and that of a client are wildly at odds. When there’s too much work or too little work or just the sort of work that’s frustrating to deal with. When you don’t want to write the thing you’re getting paid for, but the alternative is not being paid to write at all. There are more days like that at the moment. The covid-19 crisis has made the world a tougher place to deal with and that makes everything feel like a struggle. Sadly, this isn’t letting up any time soon. So acknowledge those frustrations. Recognise them. Own them. Accept that the feelings they bring are valid. Then find a way to burn off the worst of that frustration, whether it’s by blogging about it, going for a walk, or killing a hundred orcs in a computer game. And once your mental health can take it, get back into the seat and find a way to keep writing, because all the reasons to keep writing still stand.

End of Year Review

It’s the end of the year, a time to review my achievements over this circling of the sun. And while it hasn’t always been easy, it’s been a good year.

And yes, I kept doing my weird dressing up hobbies too – photo by Oliver Facey.

I’ve had five short stories published, and others accepted for publication. I’ve even written a few new ones, mostly for projects I was specifically invited to, which was an honour.

I’ve written and published a flash story every week, which will now become a neat little e-book collection.

I’ve had two comics published, and written several more scripts that will appear in Commando next year.

Russell Phillips and I finished and published our novel, The Bear’s Claws. It’s had the best sales of anything I’ve self-published so far.

I’ve had a fantasy novella accepted for publication next year. More news on that when I have it.

I’ve written the majority of a fantasy novel, which I’m very pleased with so far. Again, more news on that sometime soon.

I’ve kept the freelance work ticking over. Though the latter half of the year wasn’t as profitable as the start, I’m still earning more than enough to get by, while keeping enough time for my own writing. I’ve written a huge mix of things, from history articles to fantasy novels to business content. It’s occasionally been frustrating or boring but is still far more satisfying than any other job I’ve had.

And through it all, I’ve fended off the depression that I struggled with a few years ago. Exercise, mindfulness, and doing a job I enjoy have all contributed to keeping me sane and happy, even in a world gone mad.

Not a bad year, all in all.

Spinning the Plates

I have no idea why spinning plates on top of sticks ever became a thing, never mind how it became the top metaphor for dealing with lots of work at once. Regardless, it’s how I feel as a freelancer – someone constantly spinning plates.

There are those dull but expensive plates of freelance work, the ones that will pay the bills.

There are the exciting looking ones, the projects I want to work on, but that take way more time than they should to keep them in the air.

There are the dull administrative plates of emails, invoices, and other admin.

The scary, razor-edged plates of bidding on work, where you know your ego is going to get cut.

The distracting plates of social media – useful for keeping the rest spinning, but not if you spend too much time with them.

And the crazy thing is, sometimes it’s a lack of plates that makes things stressful. The moment you get to pause for a moment, feel guilt that you’re not spinning a plate, and then worry about the absence of a particular sort of crockery.

Do plate spinners get tense when a quiet moment comes, or is that where the analogy breaks down? I don’t know, maybe I should try spinning real plates and see how it feels. After all, there’s always time for one more activity, right?

Writing What I Like

I recently spent nearly a whole week writing comics.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written comics. I’ve created quite a few scripts for Commando, not to mention the short I did for Top Cow a few years ago. But this is the first time I’ve had enough of that work, and few enough other urgent work distractions, to make it my main focus for a whole week.

This is one of the things about building up your own business. These moments creep up on you. You’re just trundling along, doing a little more of this, a little more of that, and suddenly you have a week that would make the you of a few years ago sit up and say “damn, that’s great!”

So yeah. I’ve spent a week writing what I like. It was fantastic. Here’s hoping I get more of the same soon.

Being in Good Mental Health

I’ve written in the past about my mental health. I didn’t find it easy but I did find it useful to write those things. Thinking back on those posts, and on my struggles with mental health, I recently realised that there was something important missing from the story, and that’s the happy part.

My mental health is currently really good. Not perfect, because nothing ever is, but the best it’s ever been. I’ve made big changes to my life that have made it better. I eat better. I exercise more. I’m more open in talking with people about what’s going on in my head. I use self-reflection and mindfulness and sometimes just giving myself a break. I’ve built up my social life in ways that give me the support I need. Perhaps most importantly, I have a job I enjoy and where I’m in control.

My last packet of citalopram, two years ago.

I’ve now been off the anti-depressants for two years. I haven’t seen a counsellor in nearly three years. I would go back to either of those things in a heartbeat if I thought it would be helpful, but right now, I don’t need them, and long may it continue.

Not everybody comes out the other side of depression. Not every mental health problem can be fixed and not everyone gets the support they need. But there can be happy endings. It can work out. You can make a difference to your own life.

If you think you might be struggling with depression, this article provides some symptoms to be aware of and ways of managing them. But the most important thing you can do is to seek help. Talk to a friend. Talk to a doctor. Talk to a counselor. Because life can get better, and it’s easier to achieve that with support.

Mid-Year Review

It’s halfway through the year, which seems like as good a time as any to talk about what I’m achieving.

Picture by Jose MÂȘ Izquierdo Galiot via Flickr creative commons

Freelance work continues to go well. I’ve got a few ongoing clients and a proven track record that lets me pick up new ones when needed. I had a minor setback a couple of months ago when two sources of ongoing work suddenly dried up, but it proved not to be the huge problem it could have been a couple of years ago. I soon found more work to keep me going and used the time I gained to work on my own writing.

Speaking of my own writing, I am, as always, behind where I want to be. Edits on the project I’ve been working on for the past year and a half have been taking far longer than I wanted, simply because I’m struggling to prioritise time for them. That’s a major frustration, as a lot of work has gone into it, and I feel like I could change this. The problem is, prioritising it means dropping something else, and when that something else is currently paying the bills, that’s not a great option.

I’m getting a few other bits of my own writing done. Some scripts for Commando Comics. Selling short stories that I’ve been touting around for years. Even writing a couple of new ones, as well as all the flash fiction for my blog.

I’ve been grinding away at trying to get reviews and do publicity for my self-published work, to little effect. I have to admit, this is neither my comfort zone nor my strong suit. And yes, that’s all the more reason to work at it. Still, it shows in the minimal results.

It seems weird to end up on that bum note, when for the most part my writing is going really well. I’m earning my keep, having fun, and putting my own stories out into the world. Those things make it all worthwhile.

If you’re reading this and you also write, how’s your year going so far? What have you achieved? Let’s celebrate our good work together.

Time, Money, & Stressing Out

Sometimes, being a freelancer can be stressful.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my biggest ongoing projects ended with about a week and a half’s notice. About the same time, the website that I consider my reliable backup source of income, the one I would have used to fill that gap in the short term, stopped buying articles. Suddenly, my financial position became a lot more precarious.

In theory, I’m in a good position to weather this sort of storm. I don’t have a mortgage or rent to pay. My only dependent is my cat. I banked a bunch of savings last year, partly to see me through moments like this.

And yet, when those two things hit, I felt a sharp twist of panic in my guts. My level of gainful employment was about to plummet. I needed to find more work asap.

So I started looking for that work and I quickly got an offer. The pay was half of what I normally ask, but that wrenching feeling in my guts told me I should accept it. That feeling kept insisting “You need the money!”

Then I took a step back and thought about how my job works.

As a freelancer, the way I value myself isn’t just about how much money I get. It’s about how much money I get relative to the time I put in. If I let myself take this offer, I would be undervaluing myself. I’d lose a lot of time, time I could spend looking for better paid work. It might pay off in the short term, but in the long term, I’d be undermining my own efforts.

So I took a deep breath and said no. Then I got back to bidding on projects, and soon enough, I had offers coming in from other potential clients. Clients who recognised what I was worth and who were willing to pay for that.

It’s easy to give in to stress and take the first way you find out of a situation. But sometimes it’s worth hanging on and waiting until you’ve got an option you actually want.