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.

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.

Detachment

One of the weird features of working as a freelance writer is a detachment from my immediate economy.

I’m used to the fact that, in the modern world, we’re often detached from our physically immediate communities. Our jobs are often a commute away. Our social lives come from communities of interest. Our casual socialising is largely online. I chat with a few of my neighbours, but the desire for social contact doesn’t force me to get close to them. I get that elsewhere.

For me, there’s an extra layer to this. I’m increasingly detached from the British economy.

I realised this by considering my financial future. My freelance work is going really well. This August I had my best monthly earnings ever and on average they’re set to keep rising. While people around me are bracing for the economic shock of Brexit, with jobs and wages at risk, I’m not concerned for myself. Most of my customers are outside the UK. If anything, my earnings will improve after Brexit, as a weak pound increases the benefits of being paid in dollars.

It’s a strange experience. Any marginal personal benefits I gain aren’t enough to make up for Brexit, but it’s made me look at my life differently.

There’s something almost cyberpunk about this, existing as a free agent in a world where national boundaries are dissolving. As with anything cyberpunk, there’s a bleak side to it, the erosion of old bonds creating problems as well as opportunities. Those fading national boundaries make it harder for governments to raise taxes and support services people need. Uncertainty is creating a nationalist backlash, not for the first time in recent history.

But for better or for worse, I’m able to watch this with some detachment. My career exists in the ether and it’s likely to survive local shocks. The world is changing and, for once, I’m near the forefront of that change. Safe, comfortable, but increasingly unsettled by what it all represents.

We’ll never reach a point where those local ties don’t matter, whether they’re economic, social, or political. After all, we live in physical bodies within a physical world. But the importance of locality is changing. For better of for worse, maybe we’ll all end up a little more detached.

Balance

Being a freelancer is a lot about balance. Applying for new work vs getting the current stuff done. Working now vs working later. Working out how much I can handle.

Sometimes the balance shifts. Last year, I was all about work that interested me, even if the pay was only so-so. Right now, I’m accepting less interesting work for the higher financial rewards. Either option has its stresses and its rewards.

The good thing is that, as my own boss, I get to choose which I do, and to change it up as I see fit. I might have to keep finding points of balance, but at least they’re in my hands.

Enjoying Editing

I’ve picked up some corporate writing and editing work again. While it’s far from my dream writing job, this stuff can be surprisingly satisfying. I’d forgotten how good it feels to go through a garbled document and make it coherent, to purge the worst of the management jargon and make the words fell human.

Have I mentioned lately that I love my job? Becuase I really do.

Dealing With Bad Editing

I’ve just had another experience with bad editing. I say “another” because this is a recurring theme for me, working as a freelancer. Clients don’t always have a good regular editor. Sometimes they’re trying someone new and inexperienced, and I end up dealing with the results.

Responding to bad editing is tricky. As a writer, I know that I’m going to make mistakes and get things wrong. Sometimes an edit I don’t like will be the right thing. So it’s only when the mistakes keep piling up, when the misplaced commas and unnecessary changes litter the page, that I let myself believe that I’m right and the editor is wrong.

Dealing with this can be tricky. Sometimes it’s easy to explain why an edit doesn’t seem right to me. Sometimes it’s more nebulous. I’ve lost hours to figuring out what’s wrong with edits and searching for the words to explain it. Because if I’m going to disagree with an editor then I need to be clear on why. I need them to understand my perspectives if we’re to debate a point of language. And I need the client to understand my misgivings if I’m going to suggest that they find a better editor.

It’s frustrating. It’s awkward. It can undermine my faith in myself, as I face changes that don’t fit my idea of good writing, and I wonder which of us is mistaken. But dealing with bad editing is part of being a writer. It makes good editors into prizes worth their weight in gold.

End of Year Review – What I’ve Achieved

The end of the year is in sight, so it seems like a good time to look at what I’ve achieved in writing terms.

As a freelancer, I’ve written a load of books and articles. I hit a bump in the middle of the year when a key source of work dried up. But I’ve kept the words flowing, paid the bills, and am looking to equal or better the previous year’s earnings. I’ve recently started thinking about new approaches to finding work, which will be stressful but probably lead to more work. Starting on those will be next year’s goal.

In terms of my own writing, I’ve not had many short stories published, as I haven’t written many. On the other hand, I’ve finished writing my Epiphany Club series, and the last book will be edited and out soon. One of the novellas I wrote collaboratively for Peachill was published. I’ve submitted a novel to agents for the first time and got some very positive rejections. I’ve written my first couple of scripts for Commando Comics, which was a lot of fun. I’ve started on a cool new collaborative project. And of course I’ve kept up the flash stories here, which means there’ll be another collection of those soon.

Now I stop and think about it, that’s a lot of writing, and a lot to be proud of. That more than anything is the reason to look back now – to give myself a pat on the back and some reassurance at a stressful time of year, as well as some motivation heading into the new year.

What have you achieved that you’re proud of this year?

One Step Ahead

If there’s one thing that makes work easier, it’s getting one step ahead.

I had one of those moments today. I gouged some time out of my regular schedule of just keeping up and I used it to get a week ahead on something.

Suddenly everything felt easier. That piece of work wasn’t looming over me day by day. Every time I faced it, it wasn’t in the certainty that I had to rush and do it right now. With that pressure gone, I could think about it more easily. I could do it better.

It’s not always easy to get ahead. Staying there is practically impossible. But earning that breathing room just once in a while makes all the difference.

Sci-Fi Addicts

 

I have another sf+f related freelance gig, this time writing articles for Sci-Fi Addicts. I have pieces coming up there on TV shows that deserve remakes, why Preacher is such an amazing comic book, and the mismatched plot and mechanics of Fallout 4. So if you’d like to read more from me, as well as other interesting sf articles, then please check it out.

Staying Motivated to Write

editingI’m a great believer in the importance of measuring what you achieve. Maybe you’ll count how many words you’ve written, how many stories you’ve sold, how many hours you’ve put in. However you do it, it stops you dodging the awkward question of “am I actually writing”.

But how you use this to stay motivated is very personal and it can change over time. You shouldn’t get trapped in using somebody else’s approach, even when that somebody else is you in the past.

For example…

For the past year, I’ve been measuring my achievements but not setting firm goals. I had so much else going on in life, setting targets became too daunting. The thought of failure put me off achieving them. They were counter-productive.

I still measured what I achieved, and celebrated it with fellow writers. I kept track of story sales and freelance earnings. But there were no targets.

Five weeks ago, that changed.

Worries about income were making me tear my hair out (not that I have much hair to tear – number one cut all over means never getting hat hair). I needed to be sure that the money was flowing. So I set myself a target. I would aim to do freelance work worth a certain amount each week. And to do this, I’d work out beforehand what that work consisted of.

This time, the targets have proved motivating. I discovered that I could easily earn more than I was doing just by getting focused. Even in weeks disrupted by my house move, I’ve either hit those targets or caught up the next week. It’s relieved the pressure in my brain, letting me relax. Once I’ve finished settling in at the new house, I’ll have time to properly get back to my own stories.

Maybe in six months or a year I’ll need new targets. Maybe they’ll be different figures, or monthly instead of weekly. Maybe I’ll go back to measures. The important thing is that I use what gets me motivated, instead of getting stuck in a rut.

Do the same thing. Work out what gets you motivated and use it. Learn from others but don’t blindly follow them. Even when those others were once you.