A few weeks ago, I received a distressed e-mail from a woman who needed to vent. She figured that since I’d been through the same phase two years ago, I would understand exactly what she was going through. She was right. I did. I understood her need to leave her low-paying job, her desire to be independent, her frustration at being unable to pursue the stories and writing that mattered to her and the constant job pressure and late nights at the office. I understood it. All of it. And as she went on to say that she’d had enough and would be quitting her job soon, I mentally cheered for this woman who was about to take the step that would forever change her life. I nodded along, happy for her, right until I came to the last line, “At least when I’m writing full-time, I won’t have any days of desperation.“
That was where she was wrong. Because as every full-time freelancer who isn’t trying to sell you a how-to book will tell you, you will have more days of desperation than you ever did in your day job. Some writers have weeks and months of desperation, but even that doesn’t make them stop writing. The reason you leave your job and become a full-time writer isn’t because you’re looking for less desperation, but because there’s something more powerful than all that, something intangible, something inside us that just won’t die no matter how hard we try to kill it.
Even now, after three years of freelancing–most of it full-time–and making a good living at it, I have my days of desperation. I won’t lie to myself. I know that I will have days when the words will come to me so fast my fingers can’t catch up, and I will have days when opening up a blank page will make me want to cry. I will have days when I’ll be miserable enough to do something gravely stupid, and then snap out of my rut just as fast and spend the next thirty days trying to make it all better.
I have my days of desperation. And you will have yours.
* You will have days of desperation when there’s only Rs 150 in your pocket and Rs 200 in the bank, and you know you’ll have to apply for another loan that’ll take two years to pay off.
* You will have days of desperation when your manuscript comes back with red edit marks over it for the third time in two days, when your favorite essay gets published with a typo in the title, and when an editor repeatedly publishes your pieces while misspelling your name.
* You will have days of desperation when you’re so isolated and lonely that you spend one hour on the phone with the ex-boyfriend who stalked you, and actually enjoy it.
* You will have days of desperation when you feel like a stranger in your own world, where no one understands or cares about your need to write as opposed to getting a “real” job.
* You will have days of desperation when you feel like a sell-out for writing fluff, a hack for not making enough money, and a loser for both.
* You will have days of desperation when you have no work on your desk. And when you have so much that it’s the day of the deadline and you haven’t looked at the assignment sheet yet.
* You will have days of desperation when you feel so dejected that you delete everything you’ve ever written from your computer, and then pray like mad that you have backups. You don’t.
* You will have days of desperation when you don’t get out of bed for eight straight days because you’ve ruined your life, and you’ve done it all in the name of “art”– something even your fellow writers don’t understand.
I’ve been through all this and more. And I know there’s still plenty more where that came from. This time though, I have backups.
But while the fad these days seems to be to say that some people are just not cut out to be freelancers, I don’t buy that one bit. There is no right or wrong way to be a writer, or a freelancer for that matter– that contradicts the whole definition of being a freelancer. Everyone should get a shot at living their dream, and there is no right or wrong way about that. Don’t think for a minute though, that you won’t feel frustrated or unappreciated or underpaid like you did in your day job. You will. Probably more so. But it’ll be worth every minute of it. Because even though you will have days of desperation, they will come bearing gifts.
I no longer fear my days of desperation. I’ve come to accept them, and sometimes be grateful for them. A lot of good things have come out of them. I’ve had many opportunities come my way through acts that other writers would term inherently stupid.
* It was on a day of desperation that I rejected a high-paying assignment even though I had no work on my desk because I just didn’t feel like doing it. The editor came back with an offer of double the price and changed the direction of the piece.
* It was on a day of desperation that frustrated by isolation I picked out some random people who’d emailed and invited them to talk on IM. I ended up making some of the closest friends I’ve ever had.
* It was on a day of desperation that I finally put my accounts in order to apply for yet another loan and realized that I was making more money from my part-time freelancing than I was from my full-time job. I was able to quit my job the very next week.
And it was on a day of desperation that I decided I had to send something, anything, to Chicken Soup for the Soul, it being the deadline for their pre-teen anthology submissions. My essay “Clueless” was randomly picked off the computer and sent without as much as a thorough look, and was published a year later, fulfilling my Number One dream as a writer.