A Challenge of Circumstance

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This blog title sounds like a long-lost Jane Austen novel, doesn’t it? Austen might understand what I’m talking about, so I guess it’s fitting. So. Long ago Virginia Woolf famously stated that women writers need “money and a room of one’s own” if they want to stand a fair chance at making it as a writer in a male-dominated field. Alice Walker later expanded on Woolf’s take by noting how women of color need more than just money and a space to reach a fair playing ground. These arguments flicker through my mind often because I find myself lacking in both the money and space departments. Is it weird that I dream about a writing shed? A little room to write and solely to write undisturbed?

Then, this week actor Geoffrey Owens was in the news, shamed for working at Trader Joe’s in between gigs. I wondered, when did the conversation stop? When were artists suddenly expected by society to exist solely as artists without any need for a livelihood?

I’m guilty of hiding my jobs from each other, separating the “writer” from the “human being who need money to survive.” I spent ages hiding the fact I was a writer working a “normal” job. But not anymore. I noticed the more honest about my circumstances the more “hey, me too!” I’ve been met with in response.

Recently, Victoria Aveyard tweeted about circumstances which allowed her to write her first novel (living with her parents as she wrote).  She ended the thread by stating that she knew she had it better than others. Still, she shared the information because she wanted others to know about the foundation she had in the hopes that it would help demystify the process.

Like a Jane Austen heroine, I’m all about wallowing in my circumstances. But in the past few years, as I’ve started to seriously approach my career as a writer, I’ve noticed that circumstances come in three main elements. (If this blog seems a little all over the place, that’s because the circumstances that lend to an artist’s success is all over the place.)

Circumstance #1: Money = Time. Time = Money.

We all know that. 

Just a few weeks ago I sent a critique partner an email that included the lament “when do we get to make a living solely from the work we want to do?”

For me, circumstances have always revolved mainly around the money/ time continuum. I long for the days of patrons and dream of finding some nice benefactor who’s life goal is to help a girl out in exchange for a dedication at the start of a novel.

It’s a struggle, finding time to write versus using the time to earn a paycheck.

Every day I play the math game. If I work X hours for a paycheck then I only have X hours to write. BUT if I earn X amount, spend X of X on bills, I can save X every month to go towards a new computer. Because I need a computer. Need. A computer that doesn’t crash when I have more than two tabs open or freezes in the middle of writing a scene is a necessity for writing, publishing, and marketing. 

But then life happens and my cat needs surgery or something happens and I’m back to where I started.

The sad thing is I’m actually really good with money. But my chronic illness didn’t make steady employment a common thing for several years. Before this current job, if I sent a text to my boss during a flare up it went like this:

Me:  I’m sorry for the short notice but I’m really sick and can’t get out of bed.

Boss: Lol. Mondays, am I right? See you in an hour.

(This same boss also expected me to work the day immediately following an invasive procedure.) 

I’d look at the women I’d work with, married to wealthy men. They didn’t even need the job! It was just a pass-time for them. A pass-time… whereas I was struggling to find time just to do my other and more important job. It would be so much easier if I had a wealthy partner or family or where-the-hell-is-that-kindly-old-benefactor….

Circumstance #2: Supportive Inner Circle

An author I followed for about a year on social media appeared to have it all, and though we rarely spoke about IRL stuff, I wrongly assumed her success came from the fact she was a stay-at-home mom with a husband who worked to pay the bills. But suddenly one day she posted about a near nervous breakdown. With her book’s publication less than a month away. She revealed so much about her personal life that had never been depicted in any of her posts. She talked about her failing marriage, her mental health, and her special-needs child.

Well, whatever time she gained by not having to work, she lost under those circumstances. But what struck me most about her situation was that all her support came from online.

Much like Aveyard, I’m lucky to have a very supportive inner circle. My mothers nag me if I finish a project but haven’t let them read it. My father and sisters convince people at their jobs to buy my books. A friend stood up at a crowded comic-convention panel and told the entire room where to find a diverse superhero story. 

I’m not met with support every time outside my circle. After I signed The Moonlight Herders, word made it around that I was a writer.

“Do you write real books or… you know…?”

“You were a creative writing major? Isn’t that one of those for-fun degrees?”

(I could write an entire blog post solely about the ridiculous reactions you get when you tell people you’re a writer. But that’s for another time.)

Each time someone has something negative or flippant to say, it makes me appreciate my inner circle even more. It’s the people who support my job as a writer that I keep closest.

Circumstance #3: Status Quo

Speaking of support. Some things still haven’t changed since Woolf’s time. You have to be abled, white, straight, cis-male to enter on a level field. If you know me, you know I don’t meet all of those.

How much time does my illness take away? I don’t just lose time from being too ill to write, too tired to put a scene together. Time disappears as I spend hours cooking healthy, safe meals instead of ordering takeout or making myself go to bed instead of staying up to write because I know I can’t re-bound from lack of sleep like a normal person.

For all my jokes about a patron, I’ve never gotten far with my Patreon account because, honestly, adding another thing to regularly post on top of the work I do at my office job on top of the schedule I keep to write books would probably ruin me. There’s not enough time in the day for another job, and I don’t want to not be able to put things out for paying subscribers.

Aside from the challenge that your own health can wage on the battle to make it, the challenge of promoting a book or author that doesn’t meet the expectations of status quo is another contender. The odd thing is, you never know where to expect the pushback from. 

I knew someone who worked very closely with YA authors. He promised to help me get to a conference and some other places to make connections. Then I gave him a copy of Midnight, and I never heard from him again.

Is it because it was self-published? I’d ask others. Maybe he just didn’t like it? And then it hit me, one day, while I was doing some mindless task. For all his talk of diversity and acceptance, I had never once seen him talk about an LGBTQIA+ book.

Oh.

I shrugged it off. By this point, I’m used to tackling everything on my own. Midnight was self-published because it’s a special story, one I didn’t want to be muddled by those who didn’t get it. It did well on its own terms without any help from others.

But I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is to be zero for four, and I can’t understand why others who may be one for four don’t help other diverse voices be heard.

From finances, to support, to the ease of which society will accept and accommodate you, the circumstances which compose the success in publishing are unfortunately the factors many writers spent time fighting when they’d rather be working on, you know, their work.

What to do about it all?

Time is money, and I’m hoarding it as much as I can. I’ve tried to save time for writing in other ways. I’ve pretty much cut my personal social media usage down to zero (most days). Instead of wasting an hour each day on chatting, I’ve asked people to email me. I’ve found this to be really helpful, honestly. Email allows for a better connection, unlike the sentence fragments that flash by in a chat. 

(Though, as my email buddies may have noticed I’ve fallen behind in responses. Sorry!)

Help is another task to do. I get hope by giving hope. I pay attention to what’s going on and make sure that I’m not doing anything that could hurt someone else on the non-status-quo spectrum.

During this past couple of years, talking to writers published and not, I’ve noticed that for all the world they are never the stereotype of meek shy little people cowering away. They are fighters, putting up a fight so their stories can be born. Maybe it’s because we’re so used to fighting with the words on the page, that we’re more than well prepared to fight when we’re not in front of a keyboard.

But, still, it would be nice if other people made it a little easier for us.

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