Author’s note: I first wrote this back in January.
I had just been let go from my last job, and I was feeling all the anger, resentment and low self esteem one would expect from such a predicament. I had no lifeline. None. And I was staring at a whole lot of bills in the face on top of it.
I thought of posting it back then, but thought better of it, mainly because at the time I was searching for representation for a wrongful termination suit. Later, though, I stopped, and again that decision was made for me in the form of zero call-backs from all the labor lawyers I tried to get ahold of.
So there I was. No job. No prospects. It didn’t take long before I faced the decision of sitting at home, doing nothing but wallowing in my self-pity, or taking charge of the situation. I decided to take charge by going into business for myself as a full-time freelance writer. Yet soon I was cruelly reminded of a truism to that kind of work: it is very sensitive to the state of the economy. Very sensitive. After what I guess were hundreds of queries and a whole lot of maybes I landed just one good client, and that was almost by blind luck. The person in the company to which I first queried no longer worked there, but the local and home office bigwigs turned out to be very receptive, and in the mean time we’ve developed a very good professional relationship.
As for the rest, well, I certainly bear no ill will. You can’t get blood from a stone, so to speak, and if the need isn’t there, well, it just isn’t, a common thread in this ailing economy. Still, my client list didn’t end up as full as I hoped. So I looked for full-time work and, after eight frustrating months, I finally landed one. I’m working on leaving my old life behind, so to speak, at least emotionally. I’m hoping by posting this I’ll achieve some sort of catharsis to score that end.
In freelance writing, the prevailing thinking in the vast majority of business models can be encapsulated in the trite but seemingly axiomatic aphorism of, “Don’t quit your day job.”
I’ve been to symposiums, heard panels and read many books on the subject, and they all reflect this line of thinking. It’s fairly easy to come to, really. From personal experience, one of the most acute downsides to working in a freelance setting is simply that, even when one attains that ubiquitously sought-after but rarely reached goal of being “established,” the income derived from such a line of work is far from being high or assured enough to pay the bills or put food on the table.
John Gardner, in his narcissistic treatise about the writing life, On Becoming a Novelist, even goes so far as to suggest the kinds of jobs hopeful writers should acquire to maximize their creative potential (with his, of course, being the best of the brood).
The only dissenting voice in the raucous mob of advice givers was Ray Bradbury, the elder statesman of American literature and speculative fiction in particular. His approach, perhaps inspired Cortes when he burned his own ships upon arriving to the New World, was (paraphrased) to go ahead and take the leap off that foreboding cliff of creativity, and make your parachute on the way down.
But what if, instead of jumping, you were pushed?
I admit that I am not as brave as Mr. Bradbury. I myself, saw the wisdom of keeping a day job while writing, though took a somewhat different path than Mr. Gardner. I chose healthcare. Depending upon my mood, I called it my day job, my fall-back job, my black hole or my mafia job (a la, “Every time I think I’m out, I get sucked back in!”).
Though I did find work writing full time for a local nonprofit for awhile, the horribly high cost of daycare (our kids were all very young at the time) and the imposition of time a job with “banker’s hours” had on my own writing helped me realize that I was working harder when I should have been working smarter. So, I returned to healthcare full time, working three 12-hour shifts on the weekends and leaving Monday through Thursday open so I could take care of the kids.
This worked pretty well, for awhile. Caring for the kids took much more time than I anticipated, but we saved a lot of money and my writing time did increase a bit. After a couple of years, the arrangement of “tag team parenting” between my wife and I started to cause more trouble than it was worth. At around the same time, my day job responsibilities began to call on me more and more to be there during the weekdays. The kids were older and in school, so the oppressive costs of daycare would at least be less than what they were as well as not as much of a handful, so I acquiesced to the inevitable and switched my hours. A big, but perhaps unavoidable mistake.
Not long after, the economy went south and most of my clients dropped me as a cost cutting measure. Before then my income from writing, as above, wasn’t great, but it still was a good enough side job to want to keep it going. Still, no one wanted to bring me on, and the demands of home cut further into my writing, which had by then devolved into a glorified hobby.
To make matters worse, the situation at my day job began to deteriorate. I began to feel the first affects of burnout, and I wanted to return to full-time writing, so I started looking for work along those lines. Well, as days became weeks became months became years, I found and applied for job after job, but when you’re in a sellers market and every writing/editing/communications job that becomes open gets an average of 200 responses, it becomes very hard to stand out. That being said, I felt (and still do) that I had the tools and the talent, and I most definitely qualified for the jobs for which I applied, yet something out there was holding me back from moving back into that part of my professional life. I have an idea what, in fact I am almost sure, but I have no proof, so that is as much as I will say. On the advice of counsel, anyway.
Then, as you may have guessed already, I got fired. In December. About 10 days before Christmas, in fact.
So became stuck with a decision. Should I curl up on my bed in the dark and mutter to myself uncontrollably, should I go gently into that good night and let the stupidity of others take me down? Well, those of you who know me also know that I just won’t let that happen. As I’ve said before, I won’t give the pricks the satisfaction.
I saw a wonderful opportunity here, in fact. And so, I set to work almost at once to live the dream, so to speak. As a writer, I’ve always had three basic goals, one of them being that I could support myself and my family just doing my own writing. I’m not saying I;m shooting for a house in The Hampton's, or own my own yacht (though that would be nice). No. I’d want just enough to pay the bills, have a little fun money, and put some aside so that when I’m old and retired the biggest worry I would have would be replacing my worn fishing line.
Well, I won’t bore you with the administrative details of the writing life. Those of you with your own businesses I’m sure will identify with the busywork of accounting, approaching potential clients and everything else that one must do to get the ball rolling. Suffice it to say that, four new clients and a potential full-time job later, things are moving along pretty well. I like being my own boss, and the chance to build something that positively contributed to my own sense of self worth, something that was greatly lacking at my last job due to the ineptitude of certain individuals higher up on the chain of command than myself.
Still, like with any business things move pretty slow in the beginning, and the cash flow isn’t optimal, at least yet. So, I have submitting to finding another day job in addition to the one I mentioned above. The idea of my family starving or being foreclose upon doesn’t sit well with me, for some reason. So I know I’ll need something until the cash does flow. Like Life it is a work in progress, and even though the path is dark in the end I can at least say that I took it, that I threw my pack on my back, laced up my slick black Cadillacs and started marching, rather than just stand there, too scared to step on a landmine. At least I can have the satisfaction in knowing that.