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Archive for Freelancing

Meditations/Some Crap On Writer’s Block From France

I’m still on vacation, but I’ve chosen to live mostly in the moment and have not been keeping to any kind of blog update schedule. Much of what I’ve been doing is lounging, reading, and doing a little work on Clockpunk business stuff.  We’ve had a few interesting day trips to places like Avignon, but the experiences, while deeply fascinating to me, don’t seem like the kind of thing anybody else would want to read.  I’ll probably do more photo dumps in the future, but the only place anybody engages with any of this stuff is Facebook.  God, how I hate Facebook for that.

I’m actually nearing the point where I don’t really care if anyone reads this blog, and in fact, I suspect that the fewer people read this post in particular, the better, because this is going to be me digging  into the reason I haven’t been able to finish a short story since something like February of 2017.  If you don’t care to read a bunch of random thoughts as to why, then jog on, dear reader. No worries.

So, yeah. Just when my fiction career seemed to be getting back on track, it all came crashing down on me. After finishing and selling my first real novella, I expected I’d take a short break before diving into more short fiction or maybe a novel. And then Trump took office, and Congress began a dedicated assault on our healthcare, which I purchase through the ACA exchange.  My entire way of life felt under assault for the first half of 2017. I lived in a constant state of high anxiety and depression.  I started seeing a therapist for the first time in almost ten years, because the kinds of thoughts I began to wrestle with scared me.  I started to wonder, on a regular basis, if it would just be better to die than to live with all the stress that I was putting up with. I began to obsess over money, and worked harder than I have ever worked before, having a record year, but certain, in an oddly delusional way, that I was going broke.  It got really, really bad, and while I didn’t attempt suicide, I found myself thinking about it. A lot.  And I was just self-aware enough to know that I had to do something about it. So, I went on some meds again and started up therapy.

I don’t think I really started to level out until early this year. I expected that once I had my mental health issues under control better, the writing would come back. It hasn’t, and while the anxiety is more manageable these days, it’s still present and still higher than it was in, say, 2015.  I still feel a higher state of vigilance. I still find myself, at times, seeking out bad news to validate my inherently negative world view. I still spend too much of my free time examining the increasingly plausible doomsday scenarios about how the United States will either destroy the world in nuclear fire, launch a global economic depression, or merely turn into a fascist dictatorship and start rounding up and gassing people of color.   How can I write science fiction when every day I feel like I’m living in a ever-worsening dystopia?

There’s some of that at play. Some of it is that work has kept me increasingly busy, combined with parenting and such, so I don’t find myself with as much free time as I once had.  But I still find time to try, and what seems to be completely lacking is any sense of excitement or driving will power to finish.

I’ve started a dozen or so stories since the block began, but I don’t think I’ve gotten more than 1200 words into any of them.  I write for a single session, and then all the excitement is gone. I don’t feel any motivating force to take it up again and begin to do the real work of structuring a story, figuring out a plot, or sketching out characters.  When I think about all the things even a basic short story must accomplish to be satisfactory, I feel overwhelmed, and the task seems impossible.  Yet it’s something that I’ve done a few dozen times at least partially successfully.

Some writers, upon being told about my problems, suggest that I’m simply growing as a writer and when I am able to write again, I’ll have “leveled up” to write new, deeper stuff.  Others seem to shy away from discussing it like I’m some kind of linguistic leper.  A lot of people have meat-and-potatoes suggestions for ways to try to tackle it, and many of them, I’ve tried, but to little effect.

Around the same time that I started feeling blocked, I was also making a conscious decision to give up on my dream of ever growing into a full time writing career.  My family relies on me exclusively to generate income to provide for us, and writing is a notoriously income-poor profession.  The simple math dictates that writing is at best a slightly lucrative hobby for me, and the chances of me replacing my web design income with writing income, even over time, is about the same chances of me winning a moderately sized lottery.

I resigned myself to finding other reasons to write, but truthfully, all the other reasons pale, at least motivationally, to writing for coin. Money is the great motivator for me.  Realizing that no matter how good I get as a writer, no matter how much I do of it, I’ll probably never earn anything close to enough to replace my substantial web freelancer work required to pay our bills, that seems to have broken something inside me.  I always knew it was really risky to ever think that, but somehow I kept at it with the dream that I could defy the odds.  But as I turned 40, I realized I am not the kind of person who ever really defies the odds. I don’t have any breathtaking talent at what I do.  I’m the author you find in the middle of an anthology who mostly delivers a competent and interesting tale that you don’t remember a few months later. And I’m okay with that, I guess. At least, I thought I was, but maybe accepting who I am and the realities of my situation sucked all the motivation out of things for me.

It’s probably some kind of perfect storm of awfulness, these past couple of years.  I should be patient with myself, or learn to live with my new state as a non-writer.  But some part of me desperately wants to keep doing it. I’ve invested twenty years of my adult life into trying to be a writer, and it seems like a waste to actually go and give up now.  Especially when I’m starting to see some measure of success in selling my work, and heck, one of my stories is a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award for best novella, so it’s not like I’m not seeing any acclaim.

So what gives? Am I a psychological casualty?  An economic one? Does it really matter? Fuck yes, it matters. I want to know what makes me tick.  That’s a big part of the reason I write, when you take money out of the equation.  Writing helps me understand myself better.

Once upon a time, I didn’t even believe writer’s block like this existed.  What a fool I was.  Here I am, fifteen months since a completed story, frustrated and wondering: if I’m not going to keep writing, then what the hell am I even going to do with myself?  What now?  I’ll keep trying for a while still, but it’s hard to be optimistic about it.  Twenty years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had this much difficulty putting down words — any words.   Blog posts roll off the finger tips, but those don’t matter in the scheme of things.  So maybe that’s the problem?  Maybe I’ve put too much importance in my “serious” fiction work.  Maybe I just need to write some deliberately awful garbage, or fan fiction I couldn’t possibly sell?  That seems even more pointless though, especially because it’d be trying to make pointlessness the whole purpose of the work.

I don’t know. I just don’t have any idea what the problem is.  If you think you do, let me know.  I’ll try just about anything now to get through this patch.

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The Self-Employed Life – Happier, but Less Secure

Anyone who knows me (and I doubt you’re reading this blog unless you know me) knows that I’ve been self-employed as a web developer for going on 10 years now.  I have a lot of thoughts about the self-employed life, but first, a study that validates them:

The study by Professor Peter Warr from the Management School and Professor Ilke Inceoglu from the University of Exeter found that despite working longer hours and having less job security, self-employed workers were among the happiest with more freedom and control over their work life.

Self-employed people happier and more engaged at work, study finds – News – Faculty of Social Sciences – Faculties – The University of Sheffield

 

Longer hours?  Check!  Less job security?  Sort of!

I definitely work generally more hours than I did before I was a freelancer.  This is because half the jobs I’ve held as an adult couldn’t produce enough work to keep me busy.  At least one corporate job I had gave me something like 4-5 hours of work. Not per day. Per week. It shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone that I was laid off from that job at the start of the recession. I’d already been looking for something more interesting for a few months.

As a freelancer with a fairly well valued skillset (web development), I find myself employed mostly to the degree I want, and no more or less.  I’m very lucky in this  My billable hours goal for any given week is 20-25 hours, more if I want to buy a new toy of some sort, or more just because the work is interesting.  Of course, I work far more hours than that, but that’s how much of my time needs to earn.  And one great thing about being self-employed is, while the income is more variable, you see the writing on the wall long before the pink slip shows up.  The first time I was laid off in 2008, I was caught off-guard, if not entirely surprised. I was laid off a few months later from another job. I’ll never be surprised by someone wielding the ax again; because if anyone wields it, it will be me.  And that kind of hyper-uncertainty back in the Bad Old Times made self-employment seem far more stable even in the beginning.

The aspect of this study I do not dispute is that I have far more personal freedom than before.  If I want to take a walk, or a day off, I take a day off or go for a walk. If a project comes in that I’m not well suited for,  I can turn it down (provided I don’t need the money desperately).  In general, more personal freedom has led to higher levels of personal happiness.  Being able to do what I want, when I want, without ridiculous office place rules mucking things up has been wonderful. The downside on the happiness issue is, with great responsibility comes great anxiety. There have been times when I’ve been stressed to my breaking point by making to all continue to work.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone.  But if you’re like me at all and you get a shot, I recommend giving it a chance. You might find your quality of life significantly improved by it.

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February Means Tired Freelancer Brains

There’s another month in the can, and boy, I don’t mind telling you–I’m a little tired. February, despite being relatively short, was a very busy month for me. In fact, I usually try to schedule vacations in February.  In the past, it worked out because my webdesign for authors and publishers business was slower at the start of the year, but for the last couple of years, there hasn’t been much of a “start of the year” drop-off. The result is that my brain feels a little overcooked, and things I usually enjoy doing, work-wise, have lost some luster.  Fortunately, we’re planning an extended trip overseas in a couple of months, so I should have some recovery time. That brings me to today’s short blog topic: burnout and time management for freelancers.

One of the hardest parts about being self-employed is learning where to draw the line between your life and the job. It’s entirely possible to work ten or twelve hour days for weeks or even months at the time. The problem is, this is not a sustainable practice. You’ll end up in really bad shape, with back problems or mental health ones at a minimum.  Taking weekends is a minimum, and instituting work hours for yourself is highly recommended

One of the ways I combat this is by planning out my schedule half hour by half hour on my Google Calendar. This helps make sure I keep rolling the ball forward for all my current projects, although it’s not entirely great for flow (sometimes I like to spend more than 30 minutes coding. Like, uh, today in which I coded without a break for 5 hours.  Not healthy.  But productive!). Still, I make myself stick to the schedule. At first, it feels weird blocking out time on your calendar to spend time with the family and eat meals, but I actually find it takes a lot of mental strain off to have a device tell me what to do (based on my own orders, of course). Google Calendar becomes my asshole boss with a heart of gold. Is it five o’clock?  Go play with your son! Otherwise, get your ass back to work.

It doesn’t work if something breaks and needs urgent fixing at 8 PM, but I’m much less likely to burn out if I regulate myself this way.  Of course, it also means less money in my pocket and maybe some decline in client satisfaction as I’ve been saying “no” more often this year.  After nearly ten years of doing this full time, I think I can safely say that there is no perfect time management solution, but we learn our own rhythms and schemes as we go.

So what do you use to manage your time?  Pomodoro?  Inbox Zero?  What strategies do you put in place to keep yourself productive, but balanced?

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