The above image illustrates almost exactly how much I earned as a writer this year. Yes, it’s the most magical time of the year, when the self employed have to face the music after procrastinating over it for twelve whole months. There is always much panicked printing of bank statements, marrying up of invoices and of course the last minute flurry of searching for receipts which you are sure you left in a plastic bag under the desk but then remember tipping them into a box so you could use the bag and then remember tipping them into another bag so that the cat could use the box until, like a natural part of the earth’s cycle, the receipts have disappeared into the caverns of cluttered guest room and are logged officially as ‘gone’, only to resurface two days after you press ‘send’ on the tax return. At this time of year there is a lot of swearing on social media by the self employed, and if you bump into a fellow writer you end up rocking backwards and forwards, commiserating with them as you both panic. There are many, many google searches. I have asked the WWW to define so many tax related terms that I think I could probably write a really boring book about it.
But it is done. And I am determined, again, to not have this panic next year. The strangest thing is that actually, when I get sat down and start sorting it out, I really enjoy it. It gives me a chance to listen to all the stuff I’ve missed on Radio four. I listen to the entire series of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman while I was printing PayPal receipts and worrying about how to prove stuff from the receipts that had mysteriously disappeared. I would heartily recommend How to Be a Woman, by the way, it’s funny, moving, brilliant writing and delivered perfectly. I felt a real connection there.
I’ve realised that my tendency to procrastinate is not really part of my process at all, but rather an automatic knee jerk fear of failure, which seems to effect quite a few areas of my life. The fear is so strong that I end up putting things off to avoid what my brain tells me will be inevitable failure. I’m working on it. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of these people that don’t worry that they are a bit shit at everything and everyone else has it all sorted etc etc, but I AM able to recognise that the feeling of tackling something head on is so much more pleasurable than the days, weeks and even months of low level anxiety at the back of the mind which tugs away at anything pleasurable because your brain knows that FAILURE IS IMMINENT . So, new year, and new habit forming: the accounts are getting updated every day and I will be joining a few professional bodies because now I am able to class myself as a full time, professional writer. I did it. I earn a pittance, but I did it. The year of accounts that I have just concluded was the year in which I began to move away from the small animal care business that i had set up when I left my job as a microbiologist, after Matilda died and after the investigation into her death, and maps the time when I took the plunge and decided to build my presence as a writer, and not just a poet. It was a learning curve. At the beginning of that year my planner is full of dog walks, horse parasitology, cat visits, and bunny boarding. It brought back so many memories, lots of nice ones and feelings of pride, but also memories of how many hours I was having to put in to make a living, alongside my PhD! Animal care and writing are both appallingly low paid professions, but the over heads as a writer are a lot less, and there is a broad range of pay scales in the writing world, where as you do tend to struggle to increase rates in the animal care world and people expect a great deal from you for less than five pounds per hour. I feel much more in control of my own earnings as a writer, and confident too, in my own skills. There is a point in my accounts where I start doing the industry journal abstracting, which was my first real regular writing job, and I remember the utter pleasure of being able to not wear waterproofs to work, to sit at a desk in the warm and drink my coffee and watch the birds. I gave up the dog walking part of the business not long later. I did not regret it. After that I was able to secure my regular column at Yorkshire Life and began to drop some of the bunny boarding jobs. And then the work dried up and I had several months with very little money and I remember that as being just awful, selling possessions to get through the month, and trying desperately to keep the faith. But then I started to have more articles accepted, I began building on the mentoring part of my work and started running my online courses and found a way to do lots of small jobs that would constitute an over all income which is, I am surprised to say, liveable. I gave up the industry journal abstracting because it was woefully badly paid for the hours I put in, and haven’t looked back. This year I increased profits on last year, again. It is a steady and slow rise, but it is a rise.
This twitter thread on the difficulties of making a living just a writer says everything I want to: Rebecca Schuman. The hard fact is, I would find it impossible to pay my mortgage with just writing on its own, and that was quite a steep learning curve for me, but I climbed that bloody hill and made it over the top. All of this meant that when I did hand my tax return in, although I hadn’t earned enough to pay tax, which will give you an indication of how hard it is to make a living in the creative arts, I felt really proud of myself. I worked hard, it’s paying off. And actually, without the PhD taking a big chunk of my earnings and adding and extra twenty – thirty hours on my week, I am happy and balanced and enjoying my life. I love working for myself and I love the work that I do. I have surprised myself by how much I actually enjoy working with people. And I am determined to build on that. However, there is still no room in my days for my own creative work in the form of writing the play, which is the project I am trying, trying to work on. After much discussion with good writerly friends, I am considering a kickstarter to buy the time I need to write it, but I’ll save that for another post.
And now for a quick round up of tis week’s crazy work load:
On Saturday I went to the prize giving ceremony of the Set Riding Festival of Words poetry competition which I had judged with the super lovely James Nash and Matthew Headley Stoppard who wasn’t able to come to the ceremony. It was a hugely positive and life affirming event, with so many poets attending. James one of those quiet, unassuming poets with a very powerful undercurrent of emotion and I really valued the couple of hours I got to spend with hi, his enthusiasm is contagious. James hadn’t looked to see who the winners were (judging was anonymous) until the last minute, but I can’t bear to not know, and had looked as soon as I got to North Bridlington Library (which is an excellent library, incidentally) I was really happy to see some known faces. However, the winners didn’t know who had won either, so there was a real ‘Oscars’ feel to the event. I was very grumpy when I set off for the event because I was still in tax return Hell, but felt light as a feather when I left, and full of the enthusiasm that people have for poetry, from beginners to the experienced, and how it is still a means of communication, poetry is still relevant, is even more relevant than ever.
The next day I headed over to York, to According to McGee where Dream Catcher 38 was launched and the editorship officially handed over to myself. It was a smashing event, loads of very talented readers and a lovely buzz with three generations of editor there. We are open to submissions, incidentally and I would LOVE to see some new blood from all the talented poets that I have come across on social media and in real life. We’re still on paper submissions right now but watch this space for more news of email subs taking place. In the mean time, get sticking stamps on envelopes and kissing them into the post box for me and make my day with your wonderful poems and stories: Dream Catcher Submissions
by the way, here’s a little video of the gallery, I am so proud as editor of DC to be associated with such a vibrant, energetic art space: Video
My pictures are a bit crap, I was all of a jitter preparing myself to do a reading and trying to give a good impression. It was a bitterly cold day, but a wonderfully warm event with loads of energy and it was great to see some familiar faces and to have poetry and prose friends reading.
The rest of the week was spent critiquing poems for my just ended course: How to Write a Poem and preparing the notes and prompts for the next course, which you could still just slink into if you are quick: Poems to Save the World . I was also coming to the end of a fantastic four week mentoring period with a lovely poet who was working on a fascinating pamphlet. I love how her work has developed, how she has expanded her idea and taken some risks which have paid off and I am hoping she’ll be picked up quick. She deserves to be. If you’re interested in mentoring, have a look at the testimonials and drop me a line: Testimonials
Then finally the tax return, which fluttered off to HMRC with a whole day’s grace, meaning I could finally allow myself a day off. It was lush. I swept my patio and spent time with my guinea pigs, took the dog for a good long walk and watched a film that I knew my husband wouldn’t want to watch – Roma which is a beautifully filmed, beautifully plotted film about women, hierarchy and day to day life in Mexico. One of the things which struck me about it was the soundscapes, and it reminded me so much of when I was in Mexico, how vibrant the sounds were, how different. Beautiful film. Little spoiler because I know there are a few people who have suffered stillbirths who read this blog, it does have some scenes of baby loss in it. It took me by surprise and on occasions when this has happened in the past (though not on this occasion, which is progress) I’ve felt quite shaky and upset and have been dragged back to the hospital and my own baby’s death (PTSD) so wanted to give a little warning. Don’t let it put you off though, it is such a wonderful, wonderful film, do check it out.
And that was that. January is finally over and February is shaping up to be slightly less chaotic, thank goodness. Speak soon!