We’ve Already Discussed This. Writing Is Work.

“Are you coming with us?”

“I can’t. I gotta work. I’ve got 2,500 words to write for NaNo.”

“That’s not work.”

It was a throw away comment in a conversation I had earlier this week, a dismissal of my excuse not to go more than anything, but it still stuck in my skin like a barb.

That’s not work.

I’ve already discussed this, probably more than once, in the time I’ve been writing with the intent to make a profit, but I suppose I should say it again for the people in back.

Writing is work.

The prevailing idea is that if something doesn’t get you a regular paycheck, then it can’t be work. Unfortunately for many of us pursuing some sort of creative field like writing or art, we don’t get regular paychecks. Honestly, we would like to. We’d like to be paid a fair wage, dollars per hour for the work that we do. We’d like that regular weekly or bi-weekly paycheck like so many other jobs provide.

But the reality is that we don’t get that.

And because we don’t, there’s this myth that what we do isn’t work.

It is.

It’s the most frustrating kind of work in this capitalistic society because we will put in a ton of effort on a project that might never yield one cent for us. A story or a novel that never sells. An article that languishes in pitch hell. And even if we do get paid, rarely is it ever fair compensation comparable to the amount of work put into it.

There’s also this idea that because we set our own hours and/or work from home that writing is not work. It’s actually more work when you think about it. How easy is your job when you’re constantly interrupted by the people around you? How long does it take you to get one task done when people keep stopping by your desk to chat? How easy is it for you to get back into your groove? How frustrating is it when you lose that groove ten minutes later because they’re back again?

Yeah. That’s my reality when I’m trying to write.

Writing is work. Yes, I have to hold day jobs from time to time and I currently don’t have one, but my ultimate goal is to comfortably support myself by writing and writing alone. I want writing to be my only full-time job. I wish for it to be my career.

No, it is not backbreaking, sweaty labor. No, I don’t have to leave my house to do it. No, I don’t have a boss in the traditional sense. And no, I don’t get that regular paycheck.

But I earn every penny I make from it. It is work. It is MY work.

Now don’t make me say it again.

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It’s That Time of Year Again

It never seems to fail.

By about this time every year, I find myself strapped for cash and it lasts right into the new year. This time around it’s not exactly a shock considering the day job didn’t work out, but even when I was working three day jobs, by the end of October/beginning of November I’d be starting to feel the crunch.

So, I figure it’s a good time to remind everyone of the various ways you can give me money.

The most obvious way is to buy one of my books! I’ve got quite the selection going, something for everyone if you tend to like the creepy, disturbing, and/or scary. You can find the whole list here, but I have a few I’d like to highlight.

Come to the Rocks–From Nine Star Press, this novelette is the closest I’ve come to a love story, so naturally it happens between a mermaid and a woman being stalked by her ex-boyfriend.

Gone Missing–One of my first self-publishing ventures, this novella concerns a town of missing people who start to go missing.

Yearly–My best-seller. A collection of 12 short stories, one for each month of the year.

Spirited in Spite–This is a fun one that came from a failed NaNo novel. It’s one that I think deserves a little more love.

The Haunting of the Woodlow Boys–This is one of my stories that I absolutely love, but it’s gotten so little attention! Please. I beg of you. Give this one a read.

And as always, if you do buy and read, please leave a review! It helps other people find my work. More eyes, more dimes. Or something like that.

If you’re looking for something with some commitment and membership perks, then become a patron! Murderville is my current Patreon project that’s scheduled to go for five “seasons”. Two seasons are already done. Season 3 will start next year. $1 an “episode” lets you read. $2 an episode lets you read, plus you get a bonus every other month.

I’ve also got a little feature called Writing for Tips. I’ve got a selection of free stories here on the blog for your enjoyment and if you feel compelled, you can drop a dollar in the ol’ tip jar.

And if you don’t feel at all like reading, or you’ve already read and raved about everything I have to offer, you can always just buy me a coffee or two.

It’s been a not great year, but I’m getting my groove back and I’m hoping to have some new projects coming out soon. Also, I hope to find a new day job that’s more compatible. But until then, every little bit helps and is very much appreciated.

It’s All Up Here (But I Just Can’t Reach It)

My brains are scrambled eggs.

I’ve been saying this for months now. It’s like my grey matter has gone all tilt-a-whirl. I cannot grasp a thought.

Oh, they’re in there. I know. I can have them. But I can’t hold them. I can’t grasp them and focus on them and turn them into something practical and real. And this is frustrating because if memory serves, I used to be able to do this on a daily basis without too much trouble.

I thought this concentration/focus issue was part of the fatigue and exhaustion that went with the anemia. I thought once the anemia was under control, my brain would revert to its natural state, the chaotic hellscape that I’m used to. Then I thought maybe it was the stress of the day job, but that’s gone now, too. And the elusive ether of my mind remains.

Okay, it’s still overly-poetic, but maybe not as bad as it was. It’s still very frustrating, though. It’s like I can’t see anything up there. I feel like I need to empty my head out on a table so I can sort through all of the junk in that storage bin and organize it. I know that it would be in my best interest to take a minute (or 60) and do just that. Write down all of the ideas in my head, all of the projects, all of the blog posts, all of the free-floating To Do List items that never seem to make it farther from a notion so I really can see it all.

But I keep putting it off in favor of…something else. Anything else. My procrastination game lately has been the best of my life, for sure.

What I really need is a break. A week of isolation so I can straighten myself out. Get my mind right, find my center, stop distracting myself, diffuse this brain static I seem to be suffering from.

What I really have is no opportunity for that. Instead, I’m going to have to fix this mess on the fly.

Live dangerously.

All Aboard the Hot Mess Express

If you follow me on Twitter or read the September projects post, then you’ll know that the day job is no more.

It didn’t work out for various reasons. To be honest, the whole deal was a hot mess from the beginning.

The same day I got the job I was diagnosed with anemia, which I didn’t tell anybody about because, hey, it was just continuing to function with the extreme fatigue I’d been dealing with for months while I waited for the iron pills to do their thing, no big deal. My second shift I was offered a promotion because the store had been operating with only three people and they desperately needed anyone with experience to step up. I took it because even though it wasn’t what I really wanted for a day job, I wanted to help out and the responsibility didn’t sound too bad.

I was given maybe a week of training and then given my own shifts, call us if you need us, which probably would have worked out better if they answered their phones more often. Anyway, after about a week of being on my own and getting the hang of things, the tiniest Wal-Mart in the world, the one in my town, announced it was closing. Oh goodie. Now the small, two-register store I worked at was inundated with their business and complaints. The computer system was too old to keep up with the increase so it crashed at least once a shift, sometimes just needing the pinpad for the card readers reset and sometimes needing the entire register rebooted.

We were also still operating understaffed and the people we did have were new. I’d been there less than a month and was considered a vet. I was training the new cashiers. So, we had all of this new business and under-trained employees. When we had employees at all. I ended up working several of my shifts alone because nobody showed up or somebody called in. I also got called in early or on my days off pretty regularly.

There was also an increase in freight. Quite simply we were drowning in it. We couldn’t keep up with it because we didn’t have enough people to put it up and/or were too busy to put it up because of all the customers.

Meanwhile, I’m barely writing because I’m wiped out. The whole point of the day job was to supply me with a steady income because I wasn’t making enough by writing alone. This was supposed to take some pressure off of me. Instead, I was stressed and my anxiety was so bad I was having trouble sleeping.

There was a stretch when things were improving. First of all, my anemia got better so I wasn’t totally exhausted all of the time. We started getting two trucks a week, which made the freight easier to handle. The people we hired were getting better and showing up and sticking around. Business slowed some after the Wal-Mart finally closed in July because people stopped panicking about having to go out of town to get toilet paper. Someone that had hired in at the same time I did finally decided to become a key like me.

But then I found out that I was going to be training. From her. The night I was supposed to start training her. And I was given less than a week to do it. She called me on her first solo shifts because she couldn’t get a hold of either of the managers. One day included four phone calls, one text message, and two trips to the store to help her out.

And finally, we got a new district manager who wanted pretty much everyone, including yours truly, fired because we weren’t doing our jobs well enough.

That was all she wrote for me. I called it quits.

The thing is that I didn’t feel at all relieved about quitting. I felt like (and still feel like) a failure. If I had been better, I would have been able to make it work. I would have been able to handle that job and write. I wouldn’t have been tired and stressed and anxious all of the time. I let everyone down because I couldn’t hack it. I couldn’t do what everyone else does: go to work, do their job, go home and function there. I couldn’t fucking do it.

I expressed these sentiments on Twitter after I turned in my keys and made it official and everyone was very kind (because I follow some awesome folks there) and assured me that I wasn’t a failure, but if that were true…I wouldn’t have quit, would I?

Yeah.

Since my last day, I’ve been struggling to right my emotional ship as well as everything else. I finally got my sleep schedule adjusted closer to where I’d like it to be and I’m actually sleeping most of the night instead of fighting sleep for hours because I keep dreaming I’m at work and not really sleeping until dawn. I’m working on getting off the retail diet, too. And, of course, my writing is happening more like normal again. Yet, I’m still frustrated that I’m not doing all of this faster and better.

Because the feeling of failure lingers.

I can’t quit it. It won’t take my notice.

The Retail Diet

When I worked at Wal-Mart for the last time, some ten years ago now, my diet was pretty terrible. I believe I once compared it to eating like a racoon raiding a dumpster. I drank a lot of soda, ate a lot of fast food, Hot Pockets and microwavable beef stew being the extent of my cooking. By the time I quit that gig, I had cut down on the soda drinking, but that was about it.

After I quit, I made some dietary improvements, mainly by actually cooking meals instead of microwaving whatever I could find and making soda and fast food a rarity. And I managed to continue with this for the next ten years or so, despite the different day jobs, even while holding three day jobs at once, and even while technically working in retail.

But doing floorset isn’t the same as working retail. I wasn’t dealing with customers on top of resetting an entire store; I was just doing a lot of folding, rearranging, and swearing. Working retail means dealing with customers while trying to put up freight, answer the phone, and keep the store in order. It means walking two to six miles during any given shift and never leaving the store. It means having registers crash during busy times, people calling in and leaving you to work a Saturday shift alone for several hours, listening to customers say the same things over and over again thinking they’re the first to be so clever. It means answering the same questions over and over again, listening to the same complaints over and over again, and holding your tongue during both.

In short, retail can be (and currently is for me) a high-stress, low-wage job.

And it kills my eating habits.

In the past few months of my new retail day job, I’ve drunk more soda and eaten more junk food than I have in years. I’ve craved soda and junk food more in the past few months than I have in the past ten years. Working retail triggers in me the need for a garbage diet that I might be able to get away with in my twenties, but not when I’m pushing forty. Yet, here I am, despite all wisdom, going right back to it.

I’m guessing the combination of stress and anxiety is the trigger for me here. I can’t say that I’m much of an emotional eater. However, I think that the stress/anxiety combo wears me out to the point that my willpower is gone and I’m too tired to care about what I’m ingesting. That’s definitely how it feels. It’s not a particularly healthy mindset, but it’s hard to maintain one when all of my energy is focused on getting through another shift. It leaves little energy for the effort of making good choices.

Right now I’m struggling with it. I can only hope that the stress recedes soon (the anxiety, I don’t think, ever will) and gives me a break that doesn’t come in the form of a Kit Kat Bar.

I Shoulda Been…

Do you ever think about what you could been? Or shoulda been?

Being a writer is a natural choice for me in many respects. I wrote my first story at six. I wrote and produced plays for the neighborhood kids in the summer. I wrote a radio play and we recorded it on a blank cassette tape using our old red radio. I’d make up stories for us to act out when we were playing pretend and then I’d try to write them down later. I was always starting stories that never got finished (that discipline came later). I read a lot and enjoyed living in those worlds, marveling at how those stories were created. Writing is something I’ve always done. I’m plagued with stories that demand to get out of my head even if I’m just telling them to myself.

However.

I probably shoulda been something else.

If I’m going to be honest, I shoulda been a bookkeeper or an accountant or a professional budget creator or something. Because I like money. And I like math when it relates to money. Since my mother first paid me to work in her daycare, I’ve tracked my money, estimated my paychecks, created budgets for myself, figured out payment plans for debt, figured out savings plans. I am annoyingly enthusiastic when it comes to finding new ways to manipulate and math my money. I’ll even math other people’s money.

Right now, I keep a monthly spreadsheet to track my income and spending. And I like it.

When people talk about making money by doing things they love, it’s usually said sort of wistfully, like what they love to do couldn’t easily be translated into a steady income. And here my love of crunching numbers is not only an actual job, but you can get a whole college degree in it.

I’m not exactly sure why I never thought about it as a viable career route, especially considering my limited college options at the time. My great-aunt had been a bookkeeper for years as well. It would have been an easy opportunity to explore. And yet…

It never came up. Never even crossed my mind as I budgeted the paychecks I collected from working in retail and worked in a credit union. Never thought much about it while I worked in the cash office of a store, calculating deposits worth thousands. It was right there in front of me and I never saw it.

If I had, maybe I’d be enjoying a day job of crunching numbers to pay my bills while I wrote.

Maybe I still can.

Change the Chant

Anyone who has anxiety will tell you that it’s very real and very dumb. Your brain decides everything is terrible and despite your logical assertions that everything is in fact fine, your brain disagrees. Endlessly.

I have several ways to cope with my anxiety because some days it’s worse than others. With the new day job in retail, learning the specifics of this job (a lot of retail is the same, but every store has their own style), and the drastically increased face-to-face interactions with humans, my anxiety has definitely been worse.

One of the consequences of my anxiety going on a rage is that I don’t sleep and/or don’t sleep well. Sleep is sort of important to my well-being, as it is for most people. Due to my recent health issues, it’s been very important.

One of the ways that I cope with my anxiety is through chanting mantras. It’s a quick and easy way to calm my mind and the anxiety in the moment. It’s also very helpful at slowing down the mental chatter before sleep. The rhythm of the words soothes me and the words themselves plant pleasantness in my brain.

The mantras have been getting a workout due to the new day job and the chaos therein. The Wal-Mart in town is closing, our business has dramatically increased, and it’s been slow going getting more help and more hours to compensate for it. My anxiety has been zinging.

So, it’s no wonder that the mantras I’ve always used have been recently overused and have stopped working.

It’s not ideal, for sure. There is no rest when I come home from a long, hectic shift, go to sleep, and my dreams put me right back at work. I don’t enjoy working the same shift twice.

After a few rough nights, I realized that maybe the solution wasn’t too far from my old tricks.

The old mantras didn’t seem to work anymore. Maybe a new one would? A mantra specifically geared towards releasing the anxiety associated with work. I tried it for a few nights and it…helped? I still dreamed about work, but instead of reliving my shift or fighting not to dream about work, I just let it roll. The dreams weren’t as intense and didn’t last very long before I moved on to my usual dream weirdness (I was involved in a heist that used plastic wrap and wasn’t nearly as clever as everyone thought it was; we all should have been caught). In short, the new mantra has helped me reclaim at least a somewhat more restful night.

Once things with the day job smooth out, it’ll go into the coping toolbox with the rest of the mantras.

But until then, I’ll chant away.