So I’ve hit a good patch.
I’ve had to decline some clients recently as I’m so booked. I’ve increased some of my prices and I still have a steady flow of work. I’ve been able to take a month off to write a book I know won’t sell at all, solely for my readers. It’s been a very, very long time coming. And it also might not last. That’s the nature of working in publishing and in the arts, it’s always a series of peaks and valleys. You can’t take the peaks for granted, nor can you give into the despair of the valleys–you always have to be moving forward.
I’ve gone from making $0 a month (literally–I was an uneducated housewife) to making enough to live on. While I’m not a bootstrapper (no one is) and have had help along the way, I’ve done this without spousal support, working long exhausting hours, gone years with pennies left in my bank account every.damn.month after rent came out, and have basically had to pull jobs out of my ass to survive.
And I’m not alone. A lot of would be full-time writers face very scary circumstances, which is why I recommend not quitting your day job. Like me, you might suddenly find your circumstances have changed and you’re homeless. In my case, I had no recent job experience, no skills, but a willingness to take on whatever I could and that led me to where I am today.
Mama Bitchstress is here with another series of posts to impart to you some no-nonsense advice on how to do what I’ve done, if you’re so inclined. (I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT, PICK JOB SECURITY FFS.) What I do, how I did it, and what skills I developed that I think helped land me here.
I offer no guarantees here–anyone selling you a guarantee, have a look behind the curtain because they have ulterior motives–but an exploration of what helped me maximize my chances of making a living in publishing as a writer and freelancer, because I’ve been asked before and that might be useful information. You want to make it in publishing? Pull up a chair.
So for this intro post, the most important thing you must have: adaptability.
A very long time ago, I took a CPR and first aid course. One of the EMTs was talking about heart attacks, and how some people unexpectedly survive heart attacks when they seem traditionally unhealthy. He explained this is because as arteries constrict and stress the heart, new paths form, so when one is blocked, the blood has other paths to follow, giving more time for help. Someone who has always been healthy and hasn’t stressed their heart, by contrast, hasn’t grown new vessels.
I don’t know how accurate that is (paging Dr. Dina), but the idea stuck with me about how blocks in our path and stress can either kill us or force us to find another way forward.
I’ve hit a lot of walls, and at each of them, I could’ve sat flat on my ass and given up. No one would’ve blamed me, or cared. I’ve talked before about facing social assistance and priority housing, and deciding to find another direction. I’ve lost multiple jobs not through my fault but due to company politics. I’ve had books I’m tremendously proud of completely tank. I’ve had emergencies completely wipe out my savings many times. I’ve been bedridden with illness for six months which made work damn near impossible.
All this stress has at least given me the skills to adapt and find a new path every time (a healthy dose of stubbornness and delusion doesn’t hurt either). I hit a wall and I might bitch and flail awhile, but ultimately I keep moving until I find a way around it. Publishing landscape changes? I adapt. Don’t have enough cover art clients to make ends meet? I’ll learn how to design websites and add that to my offerings. Urban fantasy doesn’t pay the bills? I’ll write something that does.
The romanticism of the starving artist is bullshit–poverty is ugly, undignified, and not something I wish on anyone. It’s hard to write when your stomach is growling; it’s hard to write when you don’t know if you can keep the lights on next month; it’s hard to write when you’re worried your dog is going to die because you can’t afford a vet.
You want to make it in the arts–in any kind, whether writing or music or painting? You have to adapt. You have to find a way around every block thrown in front of you. You have to learn to let go of your expectations and be willing to accept the future you end up with might not look like the one you planned.
Right now, something is blocking your path. If things are going great, it might be a little block. If things suck, it might be a big one. But it’s some kind of obstacle, and try as you may to bang you head against it, it ain’t moving.
You can keep banging your head for a while, I won’t stop you. But I challenge you to look at your situation from a step back and write a list of the potential ways around it. Pretend, for a second, that you aren’t going to DO any of these things, this is purely an exercise in exploring options, so include all the ways around it you’d never choose. It’s only once you allow all those options in your head that they can take root and the possibilities become viable.
If we didn’t adapt and change as a species, we wouldn’t’ve evolved to this point. So you as an artist, too–you have to become flexible if you don’t want to end up dead in the water.
Next time I’ll look at expanding your skillset and the ways that can benefit you.