“O let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven! I would not be mad. Keep me in temper, I would not be mad!”
William Shakespeare: King Lear
“Are you crazy?” I hear you say, “What’s not to like about a life where you set your own hours and nobody tells you what to do?” I guess that’s the fantasy we all have. The sun is always shining as we lavishly butter our second croissant, thinking smugly about all those poor commuters battling their way to work, before we saunter (maybe still in our PJs – how cool is that, a dress-down Friday every day!) to our desk, fire up the laptop and take our pick from the melee of scintillating ideas all fighting for pole position to make it onto the printed page.
Except it isn’t like that – oh yes, there will be those magical experiences where everything comes together in an effortless burst of creativity, but the truth is that such times are the exception, not the norm. The gritty reality of freelancing is that it is tough and lonely, and there will be many hours, if you’re lucky, days, if you’re not, when inspiration seems to have permanently left the building.
In addition, you are stuck with the worst boss in the world. You may be able to disguise your lack of motivation and utter inability to come up with the goods from others, but, unfortunately, you can’t pull the wool over your own eyes and you will be painfully aware of your own shortcomings. The harshest critic is right there in the room with you, waiting to shred that piece of writing you’ve been labouring on with such high hopes all day before finally giving the damning verdict that the only place it’s fit for is the recycling bin. It’s maddening, exasperating and yes, at times, deeply depressing. So how do you keep your sanity at moments like these?
TIPS TO STAY SANE
- Get a life! It’s very easy to disappear into your own ivory tower when writing full-time, but make sure you maintain contact with the outside world, especially other writing friends who will join you in a good moan when things are going badly and rejoice when you have a success to share.
- Get a part-time job… Really? Actually, many writers find that balancing their time between their writing and some kind of paid work is beneficial; firstly, because it pays the bills and thereby reduces the financial stress that is one of the main curses of the freelancer, and, secondly, because other work can be a rich source of inspiration in itself.
- …but maybe not writing-related It seems counter-intuitive, but work that uses your writing skills may not be your best option. Yes, it seems like the obvious pathway as there’s no doubt you can excel at it without too much effort on your part, but there is a but – and it’s a big one. Oscar Wilde was a firm believer that trying to combine writing for money with creative writing was the worst mistake a writer could make, asserting that: “The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread. Certainly, it seems many now famous writers have held down a ‘boring’ day job with no impairment to their writing ability whatsoever including:
–Harper Lee: airline reservation clerk.
–Anne Rice: insurance claims examiner.
–Robert Frost: factory worker changing light bulb filaments (!).
–John Steinbeck: fish hatchery worker.
–Stephen King: laundry employee.
- Ditch the inner critic. Not easy to do, but be merciless. How are you ever going to write if you have a soundtrack of negativity playing in your head that constantly tells you what you have just written is rubbish and that you will never make the grade? ‘Write more, write better’ is the mantra to adopt here.
- Find your writing rhythm. Set goals – a realistic wordcount or X number of hours devoted to actual writing – and don’t kid yourself that answering emails or browsing the internet in the name of research count – they don’t! Work out when you are most creative and guard that time fiercely – let nothing stand in your way!
Illustration: crazy.moments ©let the flames begin (flickr.com)
#Carry on the thriftiness
So, it’s proving difficult to stay within the weekly budget we’ve set – in fact, have only managed to hit it for 4 weeks out of 11, but this is a time with a lot of family birthdays etc, so hoping it will settle down over the forthcoming months. With Brexit looming there is no doubt that prices, at least for groceries, are rising, but have still managed to take advantage of sales to cut expenditure on some larger items we needed to buy.
#Edit my book, write more short stories & get article commissions
4th People’s Friend story past the first stage – my editor said it showed “…a good balance of humour, poignancy and just good old-fashioned storytelling. It is written with a maturity, too, and told as if it was a story which matters” – a really encouraging comment. Have also been asked to send another article in ‘on spec’ – I am really enjoying writing it, although in general there’s been a disappointing lack of response to what I feel are some really engaging pitches. The battle between creative and paid writing is ongoing – I would really like to write some more creative short stories to enter into competitions but never seem to have the time (see Tips – maybe this is a case where I should take my own advice!)
#Do up the bathroom & loos (on a shoestring budget!)
The downstairs loo is finally done and we have decorated it – we are now onto the top bathroom and it’s a good job I’m good at concentrating (being one of 5 children has some advantages!) as I’m writing this with lots of hammering, drilling etc in the background! Exciting to see the old fittings ripped out, although it’s still a bit hard to see how we’re going to squeeze everything in as we’re adding a walk-in shower to the mix. It does work though – at least on paper!