Breaking the (work) cycle

I’ve been going through a strange period professionally, lately.

Sometimes I can’t even believe how much things have changed in the last almost-six years since I started freelancing. I barely remembering longing to line up work and hustling to fill my time with assignments. Trying to connect with editors and hoping they’d hire me for a piece.

These days, I’m lucky enough to work with a bunch of amazing editors and clients. My time is filled — so filled I have to turn down assignments regularly, which is a great problem to have.

But …

(There’s always a but!)

… to quote Justin Bieber (I think there’s a first time for everything) … “I’ve been so caught up in my job, didn’t see what’s going on, but now I know …”

I’ve been so caught up in my work — the endless cycle of pitching or accepting assignments, research, interviews, writing, editing all in order to feed the beast — that I haven’t really stopped to think beyond a week or two.

I’ve been living from assignment to assignment, type-ity-typing as quickly as my fingers can go, without really moving forward. Professionally, I’ve never been busier and while I love a LOT of what I do — the stories I write, the people I get to interview — it’s not leaving time for anything else.

I feel like I’m stuck on a hamster wheel, churning out content, and if I’m not careful I’m going to find myself in EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE five, 10, 15 years from now.

And that freaks me out.

It depresses the hell out of me, too.

My house is a mess. The kids’ dinner was reheated meatball-and-rice meals that are supposed to be for school lunches but that’s all I could muster. I hid in the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher like a zombie while they ate in front of the TV. They wanted seconds but there wasn’t any so I buttered leftover hotdog buns and blankly delivered them to the coffee table. I feel like crying but I rarely cry anymore — I don’t know if it’s the antidepressants or if I’m just shutting down inside, maybe. A random reader called me out publicly today for being a “very selfish” mother and told me to “smarten up.” She didn’t know I was already having a hard day. She didn’t know I was drowning in deadlines and worrying about how I was going to get it all done. She didn’t know I gave up my morning (precious work hours when C was in preschool) to volunteer at a teen health fair, talking about alcoholism in families. She didn’t know I skipped my Zumba class tonight so I could let my tired shift-working husband sleep later, even though I desperately wanted to go. I know it’s a bad day, not a bad life. I know I’m a good mother because I work damn hard at it, every day. I know I’ll put the house back together at some point in the next few days. I know I’m not putting myself first today and that I’m burning out, and I also know that’s temporary. But I couldn’t bring myself to Insta a cute kid pic or styled project shot today, and this is why. #realtalk
A photo posted by Heather Laura Clarke (@hfxheather) on Apr 21, 2016 at 1:57pm PDT

The novel? The waking up at 5 a.m. to write? Has not happened in months. I tried getting up early again and it just didn’t stick. I was so tired! Even with a very early bedtime, I’m so tired. I feel like I’m going at 200 per cent capacity all of the time. Maybe my iron’s off-the-charts low again, I don’t know.

The idea of never actually publishing a book is terrifying. I want it so badly but I’m struggling to give myself the time to make it a reality.

For the past three or four weeks, I have been telling myself I’m going to dedicate a certain amount of hours each week to finishing the novel. Maybe 10 hours, I decided. I’ll schedule it into the calendar just like actual, paying work and I’ll force myself to —

Yeah, it never happened.

Being a freelancer means you have no stability in terms of getting paid, so it’s our natural inclination to panic at the thought of turning down paid gigs in order to do NON-PAYING WORK — even if it’s, like, your freaking lifelong dream?

If a client or editor is dangling a cheque in front of me, I can’t say “No, I have to work on my novel. I’m going to have to turn that down.” Because the oil bill doesn’t get paid from my novel’s word count, and I don’t think a well-edited first chapter will cover our monthly cell phone bill.

I don’t know what the solution is to getting my groove back and finishing this novel. How to fine the balance between focusing on paid work that keeps my family afloat and committing myself to the biggest, most important goal in my professional life: writing books. 

In the meantime, you’ll find me on the hamster wheel with my headset on — interviewing someone, writing something, submitting something …. wondering how being an author is ever going to happen for me if I don’t MAKE it happen.

2 Comments on “Breaking the (work) cycle

  1. This is a great post.

    I am sorry that that stranger delivered a verbal gut punch on a day when kindness and understanding would have been so much more helpful. I wish people would just default to kindness.

    Meanwhile, your kids are alright. I appreciate the fact that you're keepin' it real. 😉 There's a whole lot of baloney online. I'd rather the real deal.

    Keep writing. We only look back to see the balance. In the heat of the moment way more overwhelm and underwhelm exists. Thank you for sharing Oh, and your kiddos are very cute!


  2. Ugh, I am so sorry to hear about your rotten day. But thank you for sharing about your struggles…I really hope you can find that balance and find peace.


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