Insecurities and Magical Causality

So, I recently (like, minutes ago), reblogged this post from John Scalzi’s blog. In it, just to blow the ending for you, he points out that the only question that will determine whether or not you’re a professional writer is “Do you get paid to write?[1]”
In my case, the answer to that one is currently (and, sporadically, for the past two or three years) Yes. Not much. Not in any kind of a reliable way[2], but Yes. I do get paid (in money, no less[3]!) to write. Go me. 😀
I’ve written before about how I, as an insecure writer without a lot of non-blog-related publications to my name, tend to crave the validation of having someone else (A Publisher) say “Yes, You Are Worthy” to me and my creative output. I think that (somewhere… can’t find it) I’ve also written about my own internal, and somewhat weird-ass although probably not that unusual, Hierarchy Of Writing wherein the writing I’m paid to do (content writing for websites, which makes up the vast majority of my paid writing work) is lower on that hierarchy than the writing that “makes you (me) a Real Writer” (fiction and poetry).
My mental hierarchy may not look the same as yours, or as someone else’s. Maybe your hierarchy lists “chatty magazine article for international publication” far higher than “e-novella from a small press”, or maybe your hierarchy flips those two right around and the niche-marketted but globally available e-novella is your longed-for goal. Maybe you rank non-fiction above fiction by a significant margin. Regardless, I’m sure you get the drift.
I think that a lot of us who make our livings as swords scribes for hire – particularly those of us who aren’t scraping a reliable living wage out of our writing (yet) – are looking for ways to Get Results Paid.
I know I am.
I write for a living. I model for a living. I sell poetry-inspired jewelry on Etsy for a living. Remarkably little of what I spend my work-time on, in a given month, reliably translates into cash in hand.
I can do every damn thing in the world – write a thousand words a day; edit carefully; join a writers’ group for peer-editing exchanges and mutual support; subscribe to call-for-submissions news letters; participate in open mics; submit my work to every market I can find; scour craigslist for content-jobs… but, while this stuff will up my output, and up my *chances* of getting published or getting a paid gig[4]… it doesn’t directly translate into getting paid-published more frequently. That bit – the bit where my work is accepted for publications, the bit where the employer decides to hire me – is out of my control.
I can tell myself that my job is to put words on the page. I can, and I do, and then I go and do my job. But I’m also constantly, painfully aware of that fact that me doing my job and me getting paid to do my job are two very different things. (See: Waltzing with the broom in the Hall of Writers’ Anxiety, if you’re wondering if that’s just me). Reminding myself that my job is to create the creations… that’s helpful when it comes to standing up to (internal) questions about whether or not working on my novel, or my next collection of jewelry, or a new batch of soap, or a new poem, is “an apporpriate use of my time”. It’s not so helpful when it comes to staring down the spectre of “I can’t even pretend that my income is within my control, why am I doing this again?”.
Sometimes I think that’s why we do this stuff – make lists, like talismans, of “If you do these things, you will get X result” even when there isn’t actually any causal link between them. I think, maybe, we’re looking for a spell.
And maybe that’s just me. (Or not). Maybe I’m drawing this particular connection between (A) treating obsession as if it meant being worthy of survival; (B) a list of alleged proof of professionalism[5] that is really proof of obsession; (C) a desperate need for control in a situation where we don’t have a lot of control; (D) a desperate need for external validation in a situation where we are frequently told that our work has no value until it has a dollar-value attached to it (and people are willing to shell out); and (E) the anthropological finding that the use of magic is inversely proportional to the amount of control a given potential magic-user has over a given situation[6] because I’m also an anthropologist (of sorts) and a witch.
But it feel like we’re doing Internet Magic when we tell the world (the internet) “I Am A Professional Writer Because: Unrelated Reasons” we are offering an exchange on a magical, or magico-religous level: If I do X, Y, and Z, you, Universe, will provide Q, R, and P. Spirit workers make deals like this, negotiating with gods and spirits, setting terms, offering payment, in order to gain knowledge, or a favour, or whatever it is we’re trying to get ahold of or get done. Catholics with their novenas do the same thing. And I think this is related.
If I pour all my energy into writing, forsake my friends, starve in a garet, forget to eat… you, Universe, will honour my dedication with a two-book deal / a published manuscript / a syndicated column / a royalties cheque
I’m not sure what to make of all of this. But it’s sitting in my head and making noise, so I thought I’d write it down. 🙂
[1] This is rather like what a friend said to me, once, when I was having one of my “am I really a writer” freakouts. She said: “I think writing makes you a real writer, and getting published makes you a real writer who’s been published”. Admittedly, I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gyst of it right there.
[2] I actually have to send a note to my Australian employers to discuss how (when) I’m going to be paid going forward. That said: There’s a “going forward” involved in this, so Hey! 😀
[3] I’ve also been paid in store credit and, occasionally, contributor copies. Both are nice. Neither buys me groceries. (Unless I want to subsist on chocolate body paint, anyway). I count that stuff as compensation because, well, it is. But I don’t think of it as “getting paid”.
[4] In-so-far as you get more chances of publication every time you submit another piece of work to this or that magazine/anthology/etc.
[5] And that’s interesting in and of itself, because “professional” means “I get paid to do this” but “professionalism” means “I behave like an adult I’m worth paying to do this” and, what’s more, the bahviour in question frequently winds up meaning “I will volunteer more hours than I’m paid for” and “I will work overtime on no notice” and “I will make this task the center of my identity”. And that is some messed up thinking, dolls, even when I catch myself doing it. :-\
[6] Baseball Magic.

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Filed under Getting Paid, writing

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